New bills filed to amend Universal Health Care Act

By: Julie Aurelio, Leila B. Salaverria, Melvin Gascon - Philippine Daily Inquirer | January 06,2021 - 10:58 AM

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives have called for the deferment of the increase in premium payments to Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

A group of senators on Tuesday filed bills that seek to amend Republic Act No. 11223 or the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act to avert an impending increase in members’ contributions of the Social Security System and PhilHealth amid the prevailing pandemic.

Senate Bill No. 1968, sponsored by Senators Grace Poe, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Joel Villanueva, said the planned increase in members’ contributions was “uncalled for” as PhilHealth had been beset with allegations of fund mismanagement, which it had yet to resolve.

“While the increase in PhilHealth contributions is only in view of the implementation of the UHC [Act], it is inappropriate and unfair to carry out this hike amid the economic hardships caused by the pandemic and public distrust in the agency,” the measure said in part.

‘Fortuitous event’

On Tuesday, Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor and 55 other congressmen filed a joint resolution for Congress to “defer the implementation of the premium rate contribution of the PhilHealth for the year 2021.”

House Joint Resolution No. 33 cited the ongoing pandemic, which slowed down the economy and caused 4.5 million Filipinos to lose their jobs in 2020.

“Among those affected by the pandemic would be PhilHealth’s registered direct contributors of 14.4 million workers employed by the private sector and 3.6 million overseas Filipino workers,” the measure said.

The lawmakers said the “massive displacement of workers and harsh economic conditions brought about by the pandemic should be considered as a fortuitous event basis for the suspension of a premium rate contribution.”

The Makabayan bloc also filed a joint resolution to “mandate the immediate suspension of the increases in the PhilHealth premium rate for 2021 and for succeeding years.”

Also on Tuesday, House Deputy Minority Leader and Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo filed a House bill seeking to grant the President the power to “suspend the implementation of a scheduled increase in premium rates.”

It will amend the UHC Act and allow the suspended implementation of premium rate hikes “when public interest so requires, such as, but not limited to, times of national emergencies.”

The President must first consult with PhilHealth board of directors and the finance secretary before ordering the suspension of premium increases.

The deferment of the increase in members’ contribution to PhilHealth this year would not be a violation of the UHC Act, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

President Duterte on Monday ordered PhilHealth not to increase the contributions amid the pandemic, and said he would look for the money to cover the scheduled increase in members’ premiums stated in the law.

“No increase in contributions. I will look for the money to fill it up. We will look for the money. Anyway, that is the job of the government to make it easy for everybody at this time, I said, of our lives,” Mr. Duterte said.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr., one of the authors of the UHC Act, said that even if the law provided for the premium increase, it did not mean it would be violated if the hike would not be implemented.

“The whole concept of Universal Health Care means that if the premiums are not enough, the government would cover this. Otherwise, it will be called medical insurance,” Roque told a press briefing.

The UHC Act mandates an increase in member premiums by increments of 0.5 percent every year beginning 2021 until it reaches the 5-percent limit in 2025.

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TAGS: members' contribution, new bills filed to amend Universal Health Care Act, PhilHealth, senate, SSS

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