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Philhealth rate hike freeze pressed

Allan Velasco
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco

THE House of Representatives, led by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, has expressed gratitude to President Rodrigo Duterte for supporting the suspension of the increase in the Philippine Health Insurance (PhilHealth) premium contributions due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The solons said this is a great relief to the Filipinos who are suffering from the economic slowdown.

According to Velasco, the President has once again proved his sincere and genuine regard for the welfare of the Filipino people, especially in this time of pandemic.

Velasco said that the House of Representatives is ready to review the Universal Health Care Act and its Implementing Rules and Regulations, particularly the provisions on incremental premium rate hike for direct PhilHealth contributors.

“We urge the PhilHealth and the Department of Health to work closely with the legislature to ensure that our citizens and hardworking Filipinos will not further be exposed to this unnecessary burden while still grappling with the pandemic,” Velasco said.

Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, chairman of the House committee on health, said that the implementation of the scheduled increase in PhilHealth membership contributions for 2021 should be thoroughly studied right away in light of the pros and cons on the matter.

Tan stressed that the DOH and PhilHealth’s position that the scheduled increases in the contribution rate are needed to assure the long-term actuarial sustainability of the system and ensure enough funding for additional medical benefits and to support various reforms under the Universal Health Care Law should be carefully considered in light of the clamor from various sectors to give the public reprieve, on humanitarian grounds, from paying the higher premiums.

Meanwhile, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas, chairman of the House committee on social services, said that the panel is willing to assist PhilHealth in finding alternative means to fund its programs.

“Nagpapasalamat tayo sa Pangulo sa kanyang suporta. With close to 11 million Filipinos losing their jobs during the pandemic and many others facing a precarious situation, an increase in contributions would be a heavy burden to bear,” Vargas said.

Deferment resolution

Lawmakers have filed a Joint Resolution by both Houses of Congress calling for the deferment of the implementation of the premium rate increase by PhilHealth for this year.

According to the solons, it is necessary to postpone the contribution payment increase because Filipinos, mostly members of PhilHealth, are suffering from the current pandemic.

Under Section 10 of Republic Act 11223 or the Universal Health Care Act, the premium rate contribution of direct contributors shall be increased from 3 percent to 3.5 percent in 2021.

The law was passed before the global pandemic.

However, the solons stressed that it will be an additional burden for the PhilHealth members to pay additional contribution in these trying times.

They cited in the Joint Resolution that the country’s unemployment rate has hit a 15-year all time high of 10.4 percent or about 4 million Filipinos became jobless in 2020.

Among those affected by the pandemic are the 14.4 million workers identified as PhilHealth’s registered direct contributors. Also the 3.5 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“The massive displacement of workers and harsh economic conditions brought about by the pandemic should be considered as a fortuitous event basis for the suspension of a premium rte contribution by the State Insurance Firm,” the resolution read.

The lawmakers said PhilHealth can always dip into its reserve fund during the postponement of the rate increase in 202 in the extreme situation where claims and administrative expenses might exceed contribution collections during the pandemic.

Among the authors are: Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor; Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga; Surigao del Norte Rep. Rober Ace Barbers; Negros Occidental Rep. Ma. Lourdes Arroyo; Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Macapagal Arroyo; DUMPTER Rep. Claudine Diana Bautista; Quezon Rep. Aleta Suarez; TGP Rep. Bong Teves; Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo; Cavite Rep. Strike Revilla; Magsasaka Rep. Argel Cabatbat and Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte.

In a related story, Quimbo has filed a separate measure that grants the President the power to suspend the scheduled increases in PhilHealth premium contribution rates.

Senators for suspension

At least six senators are moving for the suspension of the scheduled 3.5-percent increase this year in PhilHealth premium contributions.

Senator Grace Poe, together with co-authors Sens. Miguel Zubiri, Joel Villanueva, Nancy Binay and Sherwin Gatchalian filed Senate Bill No. 1968 whcih seeks to suspend the increase.

“It’s simply inhumane to apply an increase in contributions for healthcare services when we are right in the middle of a health crisis. Especially since there are many irregularities that PhilHealth hasn’t answered for yet,” stressed Poe.

“Our goal is still to achieve universal healthcare for every Filipino. We’re just hitting the pause button for now because we can’t justify taking more from our countrymen and women who have experienced salary cuts already,” Poe said.

Meanwhile Senator Imee Marcos, who filed Senate Bill No. 1966 to postpone to 2022 the legal mandate of PhilHealth to raise membership contributions, appealed to President Duterte to certify the bill.

“Good intentions need to be backed up by an amendment to the law,” Marcos said, after the President said payment of PhilHealth premiums should be postponed amid the economic and financial difficulties wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Marcos added that billions of pesos in government loans can help plug revenue losses resulting from the postponement of contributions. With Marlon Purificacion