DOH: Enough funds to implement universal health care law

Sofia Tomacruz
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also renews his appeal for lawmakers to pass measures to sustain the new law, such as higher taxes for tobacco and alcohol products

LANDMARK LAW. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III (3rd from left) face the media a day after the signing of the universal health care law. Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – There are enough funds for the landmark Universal Health Care Act its first year of implementation, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III assured the public on Thursday, February 21.

Duque made the statement in a news briefing a day after President Rodrigo Duterte signed the law.

 

“Initially we thought there was going to be funding gap of about P40 billion but there were some funds found for that,” Duque said.

Duque earlier said the DOH would need P257 billion for the first year of implementation of the law.

Senator JV Ejercito, chairman of the Senate health and demography committee, said during the news briefing that an additional P18 billion was added to the DOH’s budget primarily for universal health care, while some P19.8 billion was restored to some of the department’s programs.

The allotment for the programs include P15.2 billion for the completion of nearly-finished health facilities  under the Health Facilities Enhancement program, and P4.6 billion for the deployment of health workers under Health Human Resources Deployment program. (READ: Senate seeks to restore DOH budget with DPWH, DILG ‘insertions’)

The two programs were the subject of heated debate at the Senate, where lawmakers and health officials said clipping funds for the programs would “severely impact” the delivery of health services.

Duque cited other funding sources for the UHC program:

  • DOH annual budget – P70 billion
  • PhilHealth subsidies to indigent families – P70 billion
  • Allocations from the Philippine Gaming and Amusement Corporation and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office – P17 billion
  • PhilHealth membership contribution – P60 billion

Though the signing of the UHC law signaled an improvement of health services in the country, Duque also cautioned Filipinos who expect changes to happen  overnight. The DOH and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation will have to craft the implenting rules and regulations of the law in the next 180 days. 

“It’s not as if the law just because the law was signed yesterday, you already see like magic tomorrow all barangays with sprouting health stations like mushrooms. It’s not going to be happen like that…. It is not correct to think the UHC will happen overnight,” Duque said. 

The health secretary also said geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas, as well as underserved communties will be given priority when implenting the law. 

How about the succeeding years? To ensure sustainability of the law in the coming years, the DOH reiterated its call to increase sin taxes for tobacco and alcohol products. (READ: Cigarette prices to increase more with passage of universal health care bill)

“We call on our lawmakers to invest in the health of all Filipinos by appropriating the right budget, and supporting other significant pieces of legislative health reforms such as further increases in sin taxes,” Duque said.

Duterte earlier agreed to certify as urgent the bill of Senator Manny Pacquiao increasing tobacco tax to P60 per pack, from the current P30. This, Pacquiao said, could generate some P60 billion to P70 billion in annual revenues.

Bills for raising tobacco and alcohol taxes have been pending in the Senate since November 2017. In contrast, the House of Representatives passed its versions of a bill raising cigarette tax, and a bill increasing tax on alcohol in December 2018. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.