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On board with Prez

As a general rule, lawmakers are averse to enacting measures that would increase the financial burden of citizens.

Thus, they are mostly averse to raising taxes or other fees and charges, including mandatory contributions to social, health, and housing institutions.

They are only too aware that voters do not look kindly at their elected representatives in Congress who add to their economic hardship.

They may as well say goodbye to their re-election chances if they do so.

With this dire prospect clear as daylight, lawmakers from both chamber of Congress roundly withheld action to raise mandatory health insurance premium contributions, taking a cue from President Duterte.

This is quite understandable: The lawmakers need to be on board and on the record.

In a public address late Monday night, the President directed PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Dante Gierran to suspend the contribution hike to lessen the burden of Filipinos affected by the prevailing coronavirus pandemic.

Thus, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, along with Senators Grace Poe, Joel Villanueva, Nancy Binay, Win Gatchalian, and Sonny Angara, has filed Senate Bill 1968, amending the Universal Health Care Act to suspend the scheduled increase in Philippine Health Insurance Corp. premium contributions.

In the UHC Act, under which all Filipino citizens are part of the National Health Insurance Program, PhilHealth premium contributions are scheduled to increase annually in increments of 0.5 percent of an individual’s monthly basic salary beginning 2021 until 2025.

But owing to the current pandemic and its attendant economic impact on the Filipino people, this bill seeks to amend the UHC Act to postpone the scheduled increase to the year after any given public health emergency.

“The PhilHealth premium increase is just not timely,” Zubiri said.

“There are numerous people who lost their jobs and livelihood this pandemic. Many also were saddled with bills to pay for electricity, water, and rent. This PhilHealth increase would be an added burden if it pushes through.”

“And we have to understand why people would rather hold on to their hard-earned money than hand it over to PhilHealth, given PhilHealth’s history,” he added, referring to the corruption schemes within PhilHealth that went public last year. “We really have to resolve that first, and make sure that going forward, all the contributions would surely be used by the people).”

Several lawmakers at the House of Representatives also filed a joint resolution seeking to defer the implementation of the increase in PhilHealth contribution rates this year.

Over 50 lawmakers across party lines filed House Joint Resolution 33 to defer the scheduled increase for 2021, noting that the economic impacts of the pandemic should be considered as a “fortuitous event basis” for the suspension of the premium rate contribution by the state insurance firm.

“The rough estimate is that PhilHealth will be postponing less than P500 million worth of incremental premiums on an annual basis from direct contributors, which is certainly a big reprieve for PhilHealth members who have lost their jobs during the pandemic,” the resolution read.

They said PhilHealth could dip into its reserve fund during the postponement of the rate increase this year in the extreme situation where claims and administrative expenses might exceed contribution collections during the pandemic.

Among the authors of the resolution include Anakalusugan Party-list Rep. Michael Defensor, Surigao del Norte Rep. Ace Barbers, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Macapagal Arroyo, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, and Marikina City Rep. Stella Quimbo.

Last week, PhilHealth announced its plan to push through with the scheduled contribution rate adjustment this year to ensure sufficient funding for its healthcare beneficiaries.

The premium is supposed to increase 3.50 percent of monthly basic salary from the current three percent which means that those earning below P10,000 will have a fixed contribution of P350 a month starting January 2021 while those earning P70,000 and higher per month will pay a fixed rate of P2,450 monthly.

Under the UHC law, the premium rate shall increase to increments of 0.5 percent every year starting 2021 until it reaches 5 percent in 2025.