House OKs bill granting president power to defer PhilHealth rate hike on second reading
A public display sign of Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
The STAR/File photo

House OKs bill granting president power to defer PhilHealth rate hike on second reading

(Philstar.com) - January 26, 2021 - 5:30pm

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives approved Tuesday on second reading a bill that seeks to authorize President Rodrigo Duterte to defer scheduled premium increases for the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) during national emergencies.

This means that House Bill No. 8461 is just a step away from clearing the House plenary, which can approve the leadership-backed, cross-party measure on final reading in three days.

The measure is breezing through the House, with it passing the committee level just five days ago.

Yet even with the swift passage of the bill, eyed as a reprieve to workers battered by the pandemic, it is unlikely to create a significant impact this year with PhilHealth caving in to pressure from legislators and suspending the scheduled premium adjustment to 3.5% of monthly salaries from 3%.

But Rep. Jose Enrique Garcia III (Bataan) said this is just an “interim agreement,” stressing that Congress still needs to pass a law to validly and legally suspend or defer the implementation of the premium increase.

Annual premium increases in PhilHealth contributions is a provision of Republic Act No.  11223 that provided healthcare for all Filipinos and improved current health services available at a discount or for free. The law was a Duterte government priority, but has been hardly enforced after resources were diverted to the pandemic.

On top of the health crisis, lawmakers have likewise pushed for PhilHealth to stop charging more while not being accountable to the P15 billion still missing allegedly to corrupt practices in the agency. Top officers, including immediate past president Ricardo Morales, were charged and resigned as a result of the controversy.

At the Senate, Senator Joel Villanueva, who initiated Senate Bill 1968 to delay PhilHealth rate hikes, said committee hearings on his bill counterpart measure would soon be held. — Xave Gregorio

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