Senate to hasten bills postponing PhilHealth hike

Published January 7, 2021, 11:02 AM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The Senate will speed up and prioritize bills postponing the scheduled increase of member contributions to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) this year.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” F. Zubiri (Alexis Nueva España/Senate PRIB)

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said Wednesday that the deferment of the increased contributions to the State health insurance agency will be immediately referred for discussion of the concerned committees when they resume sessions on Jan.18.

“We will prioritize the bill filed yesterday on the deferment of the additional increase of monthly contributions during the time of the pandemic. (Senate Bill No.) 1968 and all the other bills filed of similar nature will be referred by the rules committee immediately to to appropriate committees for immediate action,” Zubiru said.

“Once the committee report is done we can finish in plenary within two to three weeks of debate and amendments,” he added.

Zubiri and Senators Grace Poe, Joel Villanueva, Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian and Sonny Angara filed last Tuesday SB No. 1968 to amend the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act and suspend the increase in the premium contributions this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts.

Senators Imee Marcos and Richard Gordon also filed their respective bills on the proposal.

Zubiri expressed confidence that it will get a “bipartisan support” from members of the Senate “as no one would want to give an additional burden to our people during this extremely difficult time of the pandemic (where) jobs have been either scarce or lost all together.”

He said looking at the possible passage of the measure on third and final reading before Feb. 14.

Under the UHC, PhilHealth contributions are set to increase annually in increments of 0.5 percent of an individual’s monthly basic salary starting 2021 until 2025.

Zubiri said the proposed deferment of the PhilHealth’s increased collections, however, should only apply during times of calamities and must resume once the coronavirus situation and the economy returns to normal.

He maintained the need for a “large amount of reserves” in the PhilHealth for the implementation of the UHC, which seeks to cover all Filipinos in the national health insurance program.

Gatchalian believes that the government-run insurance corporation will not be able to sustain its operations in the long run without an increase in its members’ contributions.

“PhilHealth is an insurance company. Ang buhay niyan nakasasalay sa premiums na binabayad ng ating mga kababayan — sa gobyerno, sa private sector, informal sector — ‘yan talaga ang buhay niya eh (Its actuarial life depends on the premiums paid by our countrymen — from the government, the private sector, to the informal sector). Pero kasi extraordinary times tayo, eh…Kaya ‘yong pagtaas ng premium, ang aking pananaw hindi timing this year (But are we are currently under extraordinary times, that’s why timing of the increase in premiums, I think, is not right),” Gatchalian said.

“But having said that, PhilHealth will not go bankrupt this year. In fact, it will not go bankrupt in the next few years,” he stressed, saying the government could shoulder the deficits from the delayed increase in the premiums.

The senators said the government should, in the meantime, ensure that the PhilHealth has enough funds to implement the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program.

“As of now, lets put our people’s interest front and center as we await the entry of the badly needed vaccines that can help protect our people from covid and get our economy back to normal,” Zubiri said.

Gatchalian said the same principle should also apply to the scheduled increase of contributions to the Social Security System (SSS), that “in the spirit of humanitarian support and in the spirit of helping our kababayans (countrymen), now is not the right time to increase their expenses.”

Sen.Christopher “Bong” Go said Wednesday that he will “act as soon as possible” once the bills are referred to the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, which he chairs.

He said President Duterte supports the passage of a law that will defer the increase in PhilHealth payments.