Long overdue: Continuing financial benefits for health workers during a pandemic

Published May 6, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Better late than never, so it seemed, when President Duterte signed last week Republic Act 11712, or the “Public Health Emergency Benefits and Allowances for Health Care Workers Act.”  This law grants mandatory continuing benefits to public and private health workers during the pandemic and other future public health emergencies.

On the surface, the law may seem “ordinary” as health workers really need to be compensated for the work that they do. Reports, however, revealed that there are still many health workers who are waiting for their compensation and benefits due to various reasons and administrative delays.  This law, in turn, could help boost their claims for the services they rendered during the crucial months of the pandemic.

The law now covers all healthcare and non-healthcare workers, “regardless of employment status, during the Covid-19 pandemic or other public health emergencies that may be declared in the future, from the time of the declaration of the public health emergency until lifted by the President.”  This means that even individuals working in vaccination sites, those involved in pandemic response, even the barangay or village healthcare workers, are now protected by this law – as they all deserve to be financially remunerated with a fair, just, and respectable amount. 

According to the bill explanation of RA 11712, the government could now “grant qualified beneficiaries with a health emergency allowance (HEA) for every month of service during a public health emergency.”

The HEA will be based on a risk exposure categorization – those deployed in low-risk areas will receive at least P3,000; those in minimum-risk areas will receive at least P6,000; while those in high-risk areas will receive at least P9,000.  The amount is not fixed as subject to the President’s approval, and in consultation with government agencies such as the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Department of Health (DOH), the HEA amount may increase depending on the cost of expenses incurred by the health worker in rendering services at the time of a public emergency. This standardizes the remuneration process and duly honors the sacrifices made by our health workers.  

What is more commendable with the law is the “duration” – health workers do not need to wait so long in agony or wonder when their compensation will be given.  The law is explicit in that the HEA shall be “released monthly in addition to the existing benefits that the health care and non-healthcare workers receive. (It also) shall be released in full if a healthcare worker or non-healthcare worker physically renders services for at least 96 hours in a month; otherwise, the benefit shall be prorated.”

If in case a health worker contracts Covid, or unfortunately passes away in the line of duty, the law provides compensation, too. 

“The compensation must be given to the beneficiaries not later than three months after the date of confinement or death and upon submission of complete and compliant documentary requirements,” the law stated.

Upon scrutiny of RA 11712, more benefits are included, such as full PhilHealth coverage to hospitalized health workers due to Covid-19, and free testing.  The benefits under the law will also have retroactive application from July 1, 2021 and will remain in full force and effect during the state of national public health emergency as declared by the President.

For years, we have given healthcare workers lip service, and honored them through flowery tributes as “modern-day heroes” for their valiant fight to save lives during the pandemic. But enough of that. Words cannot pay bills.  They have families to feed, kids to send to school, and rent to save up for.  The law is timely and crystal clear – the best way to honor healthcare workers is to correctly compensate them, pay their benefits and allowances on time, and make sure that they don’t need to scamper for loose change.