‘Duterte favors suspension of PhilHealth premium hike’

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    PRESIDENT Duterte is in favor of suspending an increase in members’ monthly contributions for the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) this year, according to Sen. Christopher Go.

    In a statement issued late Sunday night, Go said he had a talk with the President who he said backed the suspension of the rate contribution increase while the country is still battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Go, former special assistant to the President and now chair of the Senate health and demography committee, said Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado was also amenable to the idea and immediately ordered department officials to study how the government can augment the funds needed by PhilHealth under the Universal Health Care Law.

    Go said the President was aware that a law should be passed to defer the planned contribution increase to make sure that PhilHealth’s services will not be hampered.

    PhilHealth has announced it will charge higher monthly premiums to 3.5 percent by January 1 from 3 percent. Those who have a monthly basic salary of P10,000 and lower shall have a fixed contribution of P350 a month, while those earning P10,000 to P69,999 a month will be charged P350 to P2,449.99 a month. Those earning more than P70,000 a month will be charged a monthly premium of P2,450.

    Go, who is Senate health and demography chair, said there are two ways in which the monthly rate increase can be deferred – one is by proposing an amendatory bill that will address the specific provision in the UHC Law mandating the increase, and the other is by including a provision in the proposed Bayanihan 3 bill that would allow moving statutory deadlines and timelines for payments required by law such, but not limited to, increase and payment of PhilHealth premiums.

    Asked to comment on Go’s proposals, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Congress must “fastbreak” the creation of the measure.

    Sen. Richard Gordon said PhilHealth must first cleanse its ranks before it increases monthly premiums.

    Gordon chairs the Philippine Red Cross which has a P762.8-million collectible from PhilHealth which has been under criticism for massive corruption.

    The Senate constituted itself into a Committee of the Whole last year to investigate, in aid of legislation, the reported scams in the agency including the anomalous distribution of its interim reimbursement mechanism, overpriced procurement of information technology equipment, and manipulation of its financial statements.

    Graft charges were recommended filed against ranking officials of PhilHealth, including Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who is PhilHealth chairman of the board.

    Gordon also said that the monthly premium rate increase is poorly timed as the country is still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    At the House, Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor asked PhilHealth to give members a six-month reprieve from higher contributions due to the COVID-19 pandemic which he called a “fortuitous event.” – With Wendell Vigilia

    “We are in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic. Even private preneed companies are declaring a ‘fortuitous event’ to justify delays in the payment of their contractual obligations to thousands of plan holders,” Defensor said. “Surely, PhilHealth members also deserve a temporary reprieve from the half percentage point increase in premium contributions.”

    Defensor, a vice chair of the House committee on health, said PhilHealth’s board of directors should meet to consider the six-month suspension of the increase in premium contributions from 3.0 percent to 3.5 percent of the monthly earnings of members.