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Senate to approve bill on health worker benefits

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Senate to approve bill on health worker benefits
Sen. Sonny Angara, who chairs the Senate finance committee, said the panel has approved the proposal to continue the granting of benefits to medical and health workers under Bayanihan 1 and 2 even if these laws have expired.
STAR / Geremy Pintolo, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is expected to approve this week the bill seeking to continue the grant of special allowances to private and public health care workers, under what is considered to be simpler and faster system disbursement as long as the COVID-19 pandemic rages.

Sen. Sonny Angara, who chairs the Senate finance committee, said the panel has approved the proposal to continue the granting of benefits to medical and health workers under Bayanihan 1 and 2 even if these laws have expired.

Senate Bill 2371 filed by Sen. Richard Gordon and Angara was favorably endorsed by the Department of Health (DOH), which sought the passage of the measure in order to address any question about the legality of the continued grant of benefits to health workers.

“This bill is an offshoot of the Senate’s investigation into the receipt or non-receipt of benefits by our health workers as contained in the Bayanihan laws. And with the view of the executive branch that these Bayanihan 2 health benefits have lapsed already with the expiration of the law, we were constrained to file this bill,” Angara said.

“We acknowledge the tremendous sacrifices being made by our health workers during this pandemic and the various risks they are exposed to in their line of work – both the doctors and nurses directly catering to COVID patients and those performing other tasks at the hospitals and other health facilities. They should continue to receive their benefits for as long as this national health emergency is in place,” he said.

The bill provides the grant of benefits to public and private health workers, including COVID-19 special risk allowance and active hazard duty pay, for every month served in addition to existing benefits being received by health workers under existing laws; provision of life insurance, accommodation, transportation and meals, regardless of the community quarantine status; and provision of compensation to those who have contracted or died from COVID-19 in the line of duty.

The grant of these benefits shall be retroactive from July 1, 2021, and remain in full force and effect during the state of national public health emergency.

The bill also provides that benefits received by the covered workers during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic shall be exempt from income tax.

To ensure that there will be no confusion on who will be covered by the grant of benefits, the bill defines health workers as “medical, allied medical, and other necessary personnel assigned in hospitals, healthcare facilities, laboratories, medical or quarantine facilities, or vaccination sites and those administering medical assistance.”

It also includes non-medical workers and outsourced personnel hired under institutional contract of service or job order basis such as janitors, utility workers, security staff, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, drivers and cooks who are similarly exposed to COVID-19.

The senator told dzBB yesterday that the bill will consolidate the various forms of allowances and benefits into fixed amounts based on the classification of low, medium and high risk of exposure to COVID-19 as proposed by the DOH, with stipends ranging from P3,000 to P9,000.

Meals, as provided for by the law, will be incorporated into the cash allowances, he said.

The changes, Angara said, would make computations simpler and the disbursements faster. He said there are about 500,000 health care workers in the country, and under the previous system, the benefits and allowances are computed on an individual basis, involving, among others, meal and transportation receipts.

He, however, said the figures may change as the bill is still open to amendments in plenary.

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