Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a measure granting the President of the Philippines the power to suspend the scheduled increases in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth) premium contribution rates to lessen the public’s financial burden especially during a national emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic.
De Lima, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 1977 amending Republic Act (RA) No. 11223, or the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act, to grant the Chief Executive the power to suspend or defer the scheduled increases in premium rates as long as it is in the interest of the public.
“These most trying times require from our government and our leaders’ exceptional efforts and emergency responses that will not only secure the health of the people, but would likewise cushion and mitigate the worst economic shocks of a pandemic of this scale,” she said.
“Universal access to quality and affordable health coverage is fundamental to equipping our people with the capability of withstanding the shocks brought about by unexpected national health emergencies. It does not only epitomize a strong focus on equity and social justice, it likewise encourages more to trust the system.
Section 10 of the UHC Act authorizes PhilHealth to implement annual increases in the premium rates of direct contributors until 2024 in order to raise revenue for the implementation of the UHC Act. For 2021, the premium rate is scheduled to increase to 3.5 percent of the monthly basic salary, from the 2020 rate of 3 percent.
De Lima expressed concern about the increase, saying several issues hounded the PhilHealth which put to question their capability in implementing the UHC Act, including the Senate investigations revealing that almost 15 billion pesos was lost to corruption in the last few years alone.
Likewise, De Lima noted that the PhilHealth owes payables reaching more than a billion pesos to many hospitals and healthcare institutions, including the Philippine Red Cross in spite of infusion of funds from the Bayanihan Law.
The lady Senator from Bicol stressed that these issues have brought the credibility of PhilHealth to an “all-time low”, which, in turn, discourages members to actively and regularly pay their membership dues.
“Unless and until there is a clear showing from PhilHealth that the funds are properly used and the corrupt officials are duly punished, it will always be viewed as a corrupt institution unfit to manage the UHC funds,” she added.
De Lima further pointed out that the lockdowns and most stringent protocols brought by the COVID-19 pandemic likewise crippled many of the citizens’ capacity to pay the premium contribution, much less the scheduled increase for this year.
“Given ongoing economic hardships, we can expect a difficulty on the part of PhilHealth members and employers to comply with the increased premium rates this year. Such increases will only further decrease households’ disposable incomes and stifle their consumption,” she said.
“Proceeding with the increase in PhilHealth premium contributions at such an inopportune time imposes as an unjust burden to the Filipino taxpayer. Sa pakiramdam ng ating mga kababayan: ninakawan ka na, pinagkaitan ka na nga ng nararapat na serbisyo, pagbabayarin ka pa ng dagdag na pasanin. Sino’ng hindi magagalit?” she added.
Under SB No. 1977, the scheduled increase in a certain year will fall to the year following the lifting of the suspension. (30)