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Congress augments PhilHealth budget by P4 billion

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
Congress augments PhilHealth budget by P4 billion
The increase is part of the final version of the P4.1-trillion 2020 national budget the House of Representatives and the Senate approved last week.
STAR / FIle

MANILA, Philippines — The two chambers of Congress have augmented the budget for the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) by P4 billion to a total of P71.3 billion for next year.

The increase is part of the final version of the P4.1-trillion 2020 national budget the House of Representatives and the Senate approved last week.

In his budget proposal submitted to Congress in August, President Duterte had recommended P67.3 billion for PhilHealth.

Under the budget bill the two chambers have passed, the government subsidy for PhilHealth is to be used for the health insurance coverage of indigent patients and senior citizens.

Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, who chairs the House committee on health, yesterday said the augmentation of the health insurance budget is in preparation for the implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) program starting next month.

“We want to expand outpatient services, including diagnostic examination and giving out of medicines, so that fewer patients would be admitted in hospitals under PhilHealth coverage. That way, the government can maximize the use of funds for expanded health care,” she said.

She said the additional P4 billion would still not be enough to cover the target of eight percent of the population, or at least eight million Filipinos, who do not enjoy free health insurance.

Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero said Congress has to support the UHC program with enough funds.

“We promised to provide our countrymen with free health insurance when we passed the UHC law. We have to deliver on that promise,” he said.

He said many poor Filipinos are hoping to receive free basic health services.

In its latest report submitted to the House, the Department of Health (DOH) estimated that the UHC program would lack almost P95 billion on its first year next year. That was before Congress increased PhilHealth’s funding by P4 billion.

The Department of Finance earlier projected UHC’s funding shortfall at P62 billion.

In its report, the DOH said total available funds next year from all official sources will amount to only P162.26 billion as against the funding requirement of P257.54 billion, or a deficit of P94.92 billion.

Of the P162.26 billion, P88.26 billion will come from the DOH as part of its allocation in the proposed 2020 national budget.

An additional P7 billion is allotted in the proposed budget for health personnel deployment and P67.35 billion for PhilHealth.

Some P17.5 billion is to be contributed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) and P2.8 billion by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

The Pagcor contribution is half of the national government’s share in Pagcor’s earnings.

“If we consider only the total resources available in the 2020 national budget (P162.26 billion), the funding gap is P94.92 billion. If we include the Pagcor and PCSO contributions, the gap is down to P74 billion,” the DOH said in its report.

It said the problem with the expected augmentations from Pagcor and PCSO is that the money is “not earmarked for health but part of the (national government’s) general fund.”

On PhilHealth premiums alone, the DOH said P104 billion would be needed to cover all Filipinos with free health insurance, while only P67.35 billion is provided in the proposed national budget for next year, or a deficit of P36.63 billion.

For health facilities, P23.5 billion will be needed, while the amount appropriated in the budget is only P5.9 billion.

For health care workers, UHC will require P50.73 billion in 2020. Only P38.61 billion is allocated, or a shortfall of more than P12 billion.

Lawmakers have earlier assured intended beneficiaries that they would give the program enough funds.

Teachers’ wage hike

Also yesterday, the House voted 187-5 to approve on third and final reading a bill increasing the salaries of the more than one million government workers starting Jan. 1.

The increase, which will be spread over four years up to 2023, is contained in Bill 5712 authored by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte and Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab.

President Duterte has certified the bill as urgent. The Senate earlier passed its version of the government pay hike proposal.

Ungab said the lowest monthly pay in the bureaucracy would increase by P2,000 to P13,000, while public school teachers would receive from 24 percent to 30 percent more when the new four-year pay upgrading program is fully implemented.

He said the adjustment is the fulfillment of Duterte’s promise to upgrade the pay of government workers.

Bill 5712 will be a continuation of Executive Order 201, which increased government compensation from 2016 up to this year. Personnel in the bureaucracy are getting their last monthly increase under the EO this month. They will have received a pay hike for eight consecutive years when the new adjustment program is completed in 2023.

Former president Benigno Aquino III issued the EO in February 2016, four months before he stepped down, after Congress failed to pass the then proposed Salary Standardization Law (SSL) 4 due to disagreement on indexing military and police pension to the planned increase.

Some teacher organizations, meanwhile, are not satisfied with the proposed salary hike for government workers next year.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) chair Jocelyn Martinez said teachers and other rank-and-file state workers are not happy with the provisions of proposed SSL recently approved by lawmakers.

“(It) will not even be felt as a large part of it would only be collected back by the government in the form of income taxes, hiked PhilHealth contribution rates and increased Government Service Insurance System premium,” Martinez said.

“The Duterte administration boasted of the pay hike plan as the ‘best Christmas gift’ the government can give its employees. Teachers and rank-and-file state workers, however, find the package almost empty,” she said.

The ACT official said the proposed salary hike is unlikely to help teachers recover from the price hikes brought about by last year’s implementation of the tax reform law.

“More importantly, it does not fulfill the President’s pledge to dignify the teaching profession with a pay level that compensates the weight of value of their work,” she said.

For its part, the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) said the proposed increase in the next four years is way below their demand for a P10,000 per month salary hike for public school teachers.

“Teachers and government employees suffered low pay and limited benefits since 1989 when the SSL 1 was first implemented. This unjust and discriminatory scheme should be ended. It only perpetuated our poor condition and low chances for socio-economic growth,” said TCD chair Benjo Basas.     – With Janvic Mateo

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