DOH urges House to restore health workers’ benefits, cancer assistance fund

The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday, Sept. 7, asked the House of Representatives to return part of its proposed 2023 budget to fund health care workers’ benefits, cancer assistance, and several programs, such as the epidemiology and surveillance budget.

DOH budget hearing via Zoom on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (House of Representatives/Facebook)

During the Committee on Health’s hearing on the 2023 national budget, Health officer-in-charge (OIC) Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire appealed to the panel for certain “line items” to be returned to the DOH’s budget after this was slashed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

“So, we, therefore, again appeal to our House of Representatives members, Committee on Health if can this please be returned because this is part of the law,” Vergeire said as she specified the cancer assistance fund that was removed by the DBM.

She lamented to the lawmakers that the reduction in the agency’s budget would result in its inability to sustain the provision of health care workers’ benefits until the end of 2023.

“Primarily, Mr. Chair, what we are really appealing to our Committee on Health and the members of the House of Representatives would be our insufficient budget that was provided for the healthcare workers benefits . . . so ito po yung pinakamalaki na hindi po naibigay sa atin (this is the biggest that was not given to us),” she stressed.

The budget for the benefits of health care workers will total to around P76 billion for 2023, Vergeire said, adding that the department also has arrears totaling to P64 billion.

READ: DOH urged to immediately release benefits for health workers

“This is the money that we need so we can fulfill our commitment to our health care workers,” the official furthered.

Despite the 4.9 percent increase in the budget of the Health department to P296.3-billion this year, groups like the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) criticized that this is not enough to address the health crisis, including the lack of workers in government hospitals.

They asked for a P900-billion budget, or 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, for the health department because the DOH has already been falling short in providing Covid-19 benefits to health care workers.

Vergeire also told the lawmakers that slashing the department’s budget would affect several programs, including the epidemiology and surveillance budget.

The budget would have been used “to extract epidemiology and surveillance units across the country based from the experience that we had during this time of the pandemic.”

But the health official noted that “we were not given the required amount that we had requested.”

Quezon 4th District Rep. Keith Micah Tan asked the committee members to consider the health department’s budget and allocate the funds needed for the specific programs.

“I’m co-chair in defending the Department of Health. And we will make sure that we we will do everything so that everything that they need and the additional budget they need, mapagtulungan namin (we can cooperate on) with co-chairs as well,” Pangasinan 3rd District Rep. Ma. Rachel Arenas said.