Go bats for financial benefits for healthcare workers during COVID-19 emergency

Senator Christopher "Bong" Go on Tuesday September 14 filed Senate Bill (SB) 2398 which provides allowances and benefits to healthcare workers during the existence of the state of public health emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As the coronavirus continuously spreads around the world and the number of infections and deaths proliferate, we see emerging healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response, selflessly take lifesaving work against the virus," Go stated in the explanatory note of his bill

"Millions of medical frontliners have faced the challenge of providing care for patients with COVID-19, while often ill-equipped and poorly prepared, risking their own lives to save the lives of others," he lamented.

Go pointed out that frontliners are the most essential aspect of the country's pandemic response.

SB 2398, also known as the "Allowances and Benefits for Healthcare Workers Act of 2021", provides benefits and allowances to all healthcare workers who are engaged in health and health-related work in health facilities during the state of public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Healthcare workers include medical, allied health professional, administrative and support personnel, employed regardless of their employment status.

Under the bill, a fixed monthly COVID-19 special risk allowance for every month that they are serving during the state of national emergency will be provided to them. The allowance will be in addition to the hazard pay granted under Republic Act 7305, or the "Magna Carta of Public Health Workers".

The measure also provides Active Hazard Duty Pay exclusively for public health workers for every month that they are serving during the national emergency. Likewise, this is in addition to the hazard pay granted under Republic Act No. 7305 or the "Magna Carta of Public Health Workers".

In the event of COVID-19 exposure or any work-related illness or disease, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) will cover all of their medical expenses. Public and private healthcare personnel who contract COVID-19 in the course of their work will also be compensated.

These benefits will be available with retroactive effect beginning July 1, 2021, and will be tax-free.

The sum required to implement the measure will be charged against the Department of Health's (DOH’s) current year available appropriations and/or the current year's Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund, as well as any other sources recognized by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

As healthcare workers continue their lifesaving work, Go said that "it is incumbent upon the government to show our gratitude by providing them allowances and benefits that may improve the financial situation of both our public and private healthcare workers."

"They should not be made to indefinitely bear the pressure of fighting a deadly virus without adequate compensation," he concluded.

Earlier, Go welcomed the approval for the release of additional budget to cover the payment of the second and third batch of COVID-19 Special Risk Allowance for healthcare workers.

“Ang ating mga medical frontliners ay ang mga sundalo sa gyerang ito (Our medical frontliners are our fighters in this war). Sila ang tinuturing nating bayani sa laban kontra COVID-19 (They are considered heroes in the fight against COVID-19) ,” he added.

In 2019, Go was also instrumental as author and co-sponsor in the enactment of Republic Act No. 11466, or the Salary Standardization Law 5. The law gives civilian government employees, including nurses, their fifth round of salary increases broken down in tranches.

In the same year, he also pushed and ensured enough funding was allotted for the implementation of a Supreme Court decision upholding Section 32 of the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002 some 18 years after the law was enacted. The law increases the minimum salary grade of the Nurse I position to SG-15. The ruling was implemented the following year.