Fulfilling PBBM’s promise: Funding the much-awaited HEA claims

BY

BEYOND BUDGET

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Assalamu alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
 

Roman philosopher, politician, and lawyer Cicero popularized the idea that justice is giving one’s due.


I believe that it is in this spirit of justice that, during his second State of the Nation Address, President Bongbong Marcos committed the full payment of the long-overdue and much-deserved Covid-19 Health Emergency Allowance for healthcare workers from private and public hospitals nationwide. As the President emphasized in his 2023 SONA:


"Upang masuklian ang naging sakripisyo ng ating mga health workers… noong nakaraang pandemya, ipapamahagi na sa kanila ang kanilang Covid health emergency allowance at iba pang… benepisyo.”


Thus, we, in the PBBM administration, have good news! Barely a year after his SONA, this commitment will finally be realized. 


In adherence to the President's directive, on July 4, I announced that we, at the Department of Budget and Management, would be able to release by July 5, 2024, the around ₱27 billion required funds of the Department of Health to, once and for all, settle the unpaid HEA claims of eligible HCWs.


As of July 4, the DBM has released ₱91.283 billion to the DOH for the Public Health Emergency Benefits and Allowances, covering all benefits for HCWs from 2021 to 2023. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2024, the DBM has comprehensively released a total of ₱19.996 billion to the DOH as early as this January.


And as promised, DBM issued the Special Allotment Release Order to the DOH for the payment, in full, of the PHEBA arrears of eligible HCWs on July 5. PHEBA includes Special Risk Allowance, compensation for Covid-19 sickness and death, and additional benefits such as meals, accommodation, and transportation allowances. Specifically, the SARO will cover the payment of 5,039,926 remaining validated unpaid HEA and 4,283 Covid-19 sickness and death compensation claims of eligible healthcare and non-healthcare workers.


You may recall that the DOH officially requested the ₱27.453 billion funding requirement in May of this year. In a public hearing of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography on May 20, 2024, I highlighted that the DBM will prioritize this requirement and pledged that our agency will fulfill the President's commitment.


In the same session, I outlined DBM’s strategy to tackle the remaining HEA arrears presented by the DOH during a technical budget hearing held earlier. The first step involved utilizing unprogrammed appropriations (UA), contingent upon the collection of excess revenue. UA can only be released if several funding conditions are met, such as when the government, through the Bureau of Treasury, is able to collect excess revenue in the total tax revenues or any of the identified non-tax revenue sources from its revenue target, or new revenue from new tax or non-tax sources, or should foreign or approved financial loans/grants proceeds are realized. Further, government agencies are required to submit the necessary documentary requirements before access of the same. Such conditions ensure that spending stays within allowable limits.


Thus, the DBM waited for certification from the BTr on excess revenue, as required. We also looked into the internal budget of DOH to identify possible realignment for the program.


It was also in the same meeting, that the DBM suggested that the DOH develop a HEA mapping tool to capture and present all HEA claims and payments by region or health facility to address issues that slow down or cause bottlenecks in its release. I am convinced that this will expedite the final determination of the actual amount of deficiency to cover the full settlement of arrears and allow stakeholders, such as concerned agencies and HCWs, to monitor the status of HEA releases.


To ensure funding for the program, the DOH proposed the same amount to be included in its FY 2025 National Expenditure Program proposal. But, as I have emphasized, our HCWs no longer have to wait for next year for the funding requirement of what is due to them.


According to the DOH, it will immediately sub-allot the HEA to their respective regional offices or its centers for health development (CHDs). The CHDs will disburse the HEA to the local government units (LGUs) and private health facilities, subject to requirements such as liquidations from previous fund transfers and MOAs. The LGUs and private hospitals will then distribute the cash payment to the health workers.


For our part, the DBM hopes for the timely, proper, and efficient distribution of HEA. Thus, we commit to closely coordinate with the DOH to ensure this.
Beyond budget, under the Bagong Pilipinas directive of the President, health is a top priority—for our progress as a nation largely depends on the health of our people.  I truly believe that as we care for the patients, it is equally important to provide for the needs of our HCWs.


Rest assured that the DBM will always find ways to fund major programs and projects that promote the health and well-being of our kababayans, especially our HCWs who go above and beyond the call of duty, to help ensure a socially just, sustainable, future-proof, and healthy nation.

(Amenah F. Pangandaman is the Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management.)