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Gov't hospitals earn P448 billion amid pandemic, Lacson says; Duque claims it's P21.3 billion

Senators on Wednesday questioned the Department of Health’s (DOH) P448-billion off-budget accounts from government hospitals’ earnings in 2021.

At a Senate budget hearing, Senator Panfilo Lacson bared the figure he found from the Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing (BESF) data of DOH for fiscal year 2016 to 2022.

“We are trying to find an explanation for this (because) suddenly,  there was a surge, a spike in 2021 since ito ang nakukuhang income from hospitals,” he said.

“Ang isang logical explanation na nakikita namin dito ang surge ng pandemic ng COVID-19 ay talagang 2021,” he noted.

Lacson said the multi-billion earnings should be able to cushion some of the hospital bills of patients, who are hard up to pay.

"Why would we still charge at a time of a pandemic ng kanilang hospitalization fees? ‘Di ba dapat mag-cancel out ‘yung kinikita ng DOH, ng gobyerno (Shouldn't we cancel out the patients' bills with the income of the DOH)?” he pointed out.

“Medyo ipasa naman natin to cushion ‘yung paghihirap ng mga kababayan natin na nasa ospital, hindi po ba? Parang there is something wrong in the management of the government hospital,” he added.

(Let's use this to cushion the suffering of our countrymen in the hospitals, right? It appears that there's something wrong in the management of the government hospitals.)

Not aware

Lacson presented the figures from the BESF on the hospital earnings from 2016 to 2021.

These incomes are from hospital fees, drugs and medicines, rent and lease income, seminar and training fees, certification fees, income from hostels and dormitories, among others.

For 2021, the senator said income receipts total to P448.439 billion, while expenditures account for P16.469 billion.  In 2020, the income receipts amounted to P17.204 billion.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he was not aware of the multi-billion income for 2021.

“I’m really dumbfounded by this figure of P448 billion,” he said.

Lacson pointed out that BESF figures are reliable as these are one of the government’s budget books.

“I cannot doubt the figures being reflected under the BESF…Hindi nagkakamali ‘yan, laging accurate ang kanilang datos,” he said.

(These figures are not wrong. Their data will always be accurate.)

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked how the funds are being spent and who has the authority over them.

“What happens to this huge sum of money? How is this spent and who authorizes the spending of these funds?” Drilon asked.

Duque said he will review the figure as he finds the accounts “difficult to fathom.”

Lacson then hinted that the funds might be deposited in a bank to earn interest, similar to what is allegedly happening in the Philippine International Trading Center.

At the end of the budget hearing, Duque informed the panel that the income in DOH’s off-budget accounts for 2021 was supposed to be lower as there was a mistake in the encoding of accounts.

“Nagkamali po yung Eastern Visayas Medical Center sa kanyang submission kasi ang dapat ang in-input n’ya in the thousands,” he said.

(The Eastern Visayas Medical Center had an error in the submission of its account. They should have inputted the account in thousands.)

“This resulted in a bloated account. So for 2021 the number should have only been P21.3 billion instead of P448 billion and we will coordinate with DBM to have this corrected,” he said.

Duque also assured the Senate panel that the DOH is committed to review the use of hospital income.

“This commitment stands because ang laki po ng amount. The amounts are just too big to ignore,” he ended.—LDF, GMA News