Bill ensuring continued benefits for health workers advances in Senate plenary

The Senate Finance Committee is set to present before the plenary the committee report on Senate Bill No. 2371, or the COVID-19 Benefits for Health Workers Act, that seeks to ensure the continuity of the benefits intended for public and private healthcare workers under Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws.

Senator Sonny Angara, chair of the finance panel, said the measure, which he filed together with Sen. Richard Gordon, has been endorsed by the Department of Health (DOH) as the agency sought for the passage of the bill in order to address questions regarding the legality of the continued grant of benefits to healthcare workers.

The Senate earlier launched an inquiry into the complaints of some healthcare workers who complained of not having received any special risk allowance (SRA) as provided under the Bayanihan laws.

Angara pointed out they were constrained to file the bill because the Executive branch considers that these health benefits have already lapsed with the expiration of the laws.

“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,” Angara said.

“They should continue to receive their benefits for as long as this national health emergency is in place,” the senator added.

The bill primarily seeks to grant public and private health workers a COVID-19 SRA and active hazard duty pay for every month served, provided that the SRA and active hazard duty pay shall be in addition to existing benefits being received by health workers under existing laws.

The measure also seeks to provide life insurance, accommodation, transportation, and meals, regardless of the community quarantine status, and provide compensation to those who have contracted COVID-19 in the line of duty.

The bill seeks a P1-million grant to heirs of the covered health care worker who may die in line of duty.

In case of sickness, for a severe or critical case, P100,000 shall be provided to the covered individuals; and in case of sickness, for a mild or moderate case, P15,000 shall be provided to the covered individuals.

The benefits will have retroactive application from July 1, 2021 and shall remain in full force and effect during the state of national public health emergency as declared by the President.

During a hearing of the Senate committee on Health and Demography last Friday, the DOH proposed a “singular allowance” for health workers that would range from P3,000 to P9,000.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the proposal would simplify the provisions under Senate Bill No. 2371. Duque also said the rate of allowance should vary according to the risk of exposure of health workers in particular work settings.

Duque said the benefits for health workers should be classified into three categories of exposure to COVID-19—low risk, medium risk and high risk—and should stand to receive P3,000, P6,000 and P9,000, respectively.