Expanded health care funds short by P30 B
The House has approved the alcohol tax bill on second reading and will next tackle the lower income corporate tax measure, which the Salceda panel has endorsed.
Michael Varcas

Expanded health care funds short by P30 B

Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - August 16, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Funds for the expanded or universal health care (UHC) program, which the government will implement starting in January next year will be short by P30 billion, a Department of Finance (DOF) official said yesterday.

“The funding deficit for UHC for next year is P62 billion. With lower alcohol taxes approved by the House of Representatives, we expect to generate only P17 billion, plus P15 billion from tobacco taxes, for a total of P32 billion,” Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua told reporters.

Chua and Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, who is ways and means committee chairman, held a briefing on the bill increasing levies on beer and other alcohol products and another proposed law reducing corporate income tax and rationalizing tax incentives for businesses.

The House has approved the alcohol tax bill on second reading and will next tackle the lower income corporate tax measure, which the Salceda panel has endorsed. 

The approved alcohol levies are significantly lower than what the DOF has proposed. For instance, in the case of beer, the DOF wanted P40 per liter (three), while the Salceda panel and the House approved only P28 per liter.

“We are not satisfied with the House version, but it’s a starting point. We hope to convince senators to go for higher rates for the UHC program,” Chua said.

He said had congressmen adopted the DOF version, the expected additional revenue from alcohol levies would be P33 billion a year.

Responding to questions, Chua said the P30-billion funding gap for the expanded health care would mean that the program would cover fewer Filipinos or health services would be scaled down.

Either way, he said it is the targeted beneficiaries who will suffer.

The House in the last Congress approved the higher alcohol tax bill but the Senate failed to act on it for lack of time until the legislature adjourned. It was re-filed in the present 18th Congress.

Asked why they chose lower rates, Salceda said, “We invoked Section 48 of our rules to shorten the process, and that meant that we had to hew closely to the bill the House approved on third reading in the last Congress but which the Senate did not approve.”

Section 48 allows a committee to hold only one hearing on a measure that was previously passed on third and final reading.

“We wanted to get the bill out of the House and throw it to senators who are busy on investigations so they would have something to chew on as regards the national agenda,” Salceda said.

He said his panel and the House opted for an increase smaller than what the DOF proposed to avoid prolonged discussions on various bills seeking different rates for alcohol products.

 “Without Section 48, we would have started from scratch, and that meant deliberating on the bills and hearing all stakeholders. It also meant lobbying by the affected sectors, which would have slowed down consideration and approval of the proposed higher alcohol taxes,” he explained.

Meanwhile, President Duterte would not tolerate any form of irregularity and corruption involving the alleged misuse of funds at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).              – With Christina Mendez

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