BEIRUT: Heath Minister Wael Abu Faour announced Thursday that his ministry had busted an employee accused of signing fake bills allowing a hospital in Hermel to exploit public insurance funds.
“From now on we will deal with these matters differently,” Abu Faour said during a news conference where he announced that he would prosecute both the doctor and the hospital over the fraud.
The physician, who was employed by the Health Ministry to audit hospital bills and verify their authenticity, had been caught signing bills for Al-Assi Hospital without checking the amounts.
According to Abu Faour, the doctor was bribed to allow the hospital to inflate their bills and thus increase the returns they would get from the National Social Security Fund and the Health Ministry.
Calling the employee’s acts a “great catastrophe,” Abu Faour pledged to “put an end” to such corrupt behavior and described the suspected individual as “a mark of shame on the Health Ministry.”
“The LL420 billion shall be spent only on patients and people in need,” he said, referring to the ministry’s budget covering Lebanese citizens without health insurance.
The suspect was dismissed from his position, banned from returning to the profession and was referred to the prosecutor’s office, Abu Faour said.
“The contract with the hospital will definitely be terminated, and the hospital will also be prosecuted,” he said. “This does not only harm the reputation of the doctor or the hospital, but more importantly that of the Lebanese state and the health ministry."
Speaking in an angry tone, Abu Faour said that the acts of the doctor and the hospital were particularly harmful because many poor patients were denied access to hospitals when the limit of the ministry-covered hospitalizations was reached.
The ministry has contracts with most private hospitals in the country, determining a separate “financial ceiling” for each, which is the maximum that each could be reimbursed for treating patients.
He explained that the financial ceiling that used to be given to the hospital would be distributed to other hospitals in the same region.
Abu Faour told The Daily Star that the doctor alleged to have participated in these corrupt activities came from the Dana family.
He said he had held a “wide meeting” with the ministry’s auditing doctors on the day he was appointed health minister.
“What was before is history, and what is needed now is to found a new era, in which auditing doctors become the eye of the Lebanese state, and the guardians of its funds,” he told the employees at that meeting.
Abu Faour admitted he had always known that corrupt activities existed in the ministry and that some doctors and hospitals were making “illicit profits.” However, he pledged to fight such phenomena with all his efforts, saying it was “time to put an end to all of that.”
The Progressive Socialist Party minister warned in advance that he would not accept any political cover to help the doctor avoid the courts. “The protection methods that have been typically used will not affect my decisions,” he said.
“I will present the matter before the Cabinet to appoint new auditors and supervisors to monitor the auditors.”