PhilHealth heeds Duterte, suspends increase

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
PhilHealth heeds Duterte, suspends increase
PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Dante Gierran said the state insurer stands by the President in his effort to ease the burden of Filipinos affected by the pandemic
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — As ordered by President Duterte, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. suspended the implementation of the increase in the premium contributions of PhilHealth members for this year.

PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Dante Gierran said the state insurer stands by the President in his effort to ease the burden of Filipinos affected by the pandemic.

Gierran clarified that PhilHealth would still collect premiums from direct contributors using three percent instead of the 3.5 percent contribution rate.

This means that the contribution rate will remain at P60,000 instead of P70,000.

“This interim arrangement will be good until Congress is able to pass a law deferring the scheduled premium adjustment as provided under the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act of 2019,” Gierran said.

He said that if no legislation would be passed for this purpose, PhilHealth will proceed with the scheduled premium rate increase and ceiling adjustment as provided under the UHC law.

“Cognizant of the current fortuitous situation that ravaged so many lives and derailed the economy, PhilHealth will do its part in alleviating the lives of Filipinos, especially insofar as health is concerned,” he said.

Gierran said the state insurer would closely work with Congress in coming up with the most viable whole-of-government and whole-of-nation solution based on existing laws.

Earlier, Senate and House leaders expressed support for a decision of Duterte to defer the scheduled increase in PhilHealth members’ contributions.

Senators said an additional burden is the last thing that Filipinos need during this time of pandemic.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said the move was proof of the President’s sincere and genuine regard for the welfare of the Filipinos, especially in this time of pandemic.

Sens. Grace Poe and Imee Marcos filed Senate Bill 1968 and SB 1966, respectively, both seeking to suspend the scheduled 3.5 percent increase this year in PhilHealth premium contributions.

“It’s inhumane to apply an increase in the contributions for healthcare services when we are right in the middle of a health crisis and especially since there are many irregularities that PhilHealth has yet to answer,” Poe said.

Velasco gave assurance that the House is ready to review the UHC Act and its implementing rules and regulations, particularly the provision 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 will not further be exposed to this unnecessary burden as they are still grappling with the pandemic,” Velasco said in a statement.

Marcos said her SB 1966 is seeking to postpone to 2022 the legal mandate of PhilHealth to raise membership contributions by .5 percent to 3.5 percent this year.

Amending the law will also solve the dilemma of PhilHealth officials who are duty-bound to implement the law but also must heed the call of the times, Marcos said.

Under the UHC Act, the same incremental .5 percent increase will be applied each year until 2025 when PhilHealth contributions will reach five percent of the members’ salaries.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said a law must be crafted in order to suspend the mandated hike in members’ contributions.

“We can postpone the premium hike. It is the right thing to do given that our kababayans and many businesses in the country are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic,” Drilon said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the deferment of the increase in the monthly premium payments of PhilHealth members should give the state insurer time to rid itself of incompetence and corruption.

Lacson said the plan to increase premiums for PhilHealth members is ill-advised, especially due to the huge losses it incurred due to the two scourges.

House social services committee chairman Alfred Vargas, health committee chair Angelina Tan and assistant majority leader Stella Quimbo lauded Duterte’s move, saying the increase will burden Filipinos who are losing their jobs to the pandemic.

Vargas said PhilHealth should find alternative means to fund its programs instead of collecting higher monthly premiums.

Tan said the government should consider the impact of the PhilHealth premium increase to its members.

For her part, Quimbo said the law should adjust to the pandemic which is an unforeseen circumstance.

PhilHealth earlier said it was expecting a net operating loss of P90 billion in 2020 and P147 billion in 2021 should the pandemic persist. – Edu Punay, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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