Velasco files measures giving Duterte power to suspend SSS, PhilHealth hikes

Published January 7, 2021, 4:30 PM

by Ben Rosario

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco sought to grant President Duterte Thursday the power to defer scheduled increases in membership contribution in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and the Social Security System during “times of national emergencies.”

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco (Lord Allan Velasco’s Office / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

In separate bills filed before the House, Velasco proposed to amend provisions of  Republic Act 11223 or the Universal Health Care Act and RA 11199 or the Social Security Act of 2018 that mandates gradual increases in monthly premium contributions of members.

“These are extraordinary times and Congress must respond accordingly,” Velasco said, as he called for swift approval of the two bills that both aimed at alleviating the financial burden faced by Filipino workers amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Under the bills, the President may, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Department of Health and the Department of Finance as chairpersons of PhilHealth and SSS, respectively, “suspend the implementation of the scheduled increases in premium rates in times of national emergencies when public interest so requires.”

Several lawmakers have also filed bills proposing to amend the two pieces of social legislation in response to strong public clamor against the adjustment of premium fees that were scheduled starting this month.

At least 60 House members joined Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor in filing a joint resolution proposing a one year deferment of the scheduled hike in PhilHealth premiums.

In filing House Bill 8317, Velasco said the temporary suspension of the hike in SSS contributions will help the workforce achieve a faster recovery from the impact of the pandemic.

Notwithstanding the good intention of the scheduled increases in SSS contribution rates under RA 11199, Velasco said it must be suspended while the country faces a national public health emergency.

“We are witnesses to the negative impact of this COVID-19 outbreak. Under this pretext, the sovereign government must be given the prerogative to bend the rules of the social security law in favor of the greater good,” Velasco said.

On the other hand, Velasco also authored HB 8316 that addresses the public appeal for the postponement of the implementation of RA 11223 relative to the increased premiums.

Velasco noted that in 2018, RA 11223 was enacted to ensure that all Filipinos are guaranteed equitable access to quality and affordable health care goods and services, and protected against financial risk.

“While we recognize that the (PhilHealth) only aims to implement the provisions of RA 11223, imposing a higher premium rate to our ‘kababayans’ under our current conditions will definitely enforce a new round of financial burden to its members,” Velasco said in the explanatory note of HB 8316.

“Suspending the imposition of the new PhilHealth premium rates will provide a much-needed relief from the negative effects of the pandemic and will assure Filipinos that the government is sensitive to their sentiments,” the House official said.

According to Velasco, Filipinos have barely recovered from the losses and difficulties brought by COVID-19.

“Even today, while some restrictions may have been lifted, most livelihood, businesses, and other sources of income remain shuttered and closed, while many Filipinos remain unemployed,” he lamented.

He said that as of October 2020, the unemployment rate in the country still stands at 8.7 percent, which is equivalent to 3.8 million Filipinos in the labor force.

“The social justice provisions in the 1987 Philippine Constitution were precisely drafted and written to avoid double economic jeopardy to Filipinos during times of crises,” Velasco pointed out. 

The Marinduque lawmaker noted that Duterte has himself supported the calls to defer the increase in PhilHealth premium contributions.