‘Simply inhumane’: Poe files bill to defer PhilHealth rate hike

Bonz Magsambol

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‘Simply inhumane’: Poe files bill to defer PhilHealth rate hike

File photo of Senator Grace Poe

Photo from Office of Senator Grace Poe

Senate Grace Poe also says 'there are many irregularities that PhilHealth hasn’t answered for yet'

Senator Grace Poe has filed a bill seeking to suspend the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth) member contributions hike, which takes effect this month.

“It’s simply inhumane to apply an increase in contributions for healthcare services when we are right in the middle of a health crisis. Especially since there are many irregularities that PhilHealth hasn’t answered for yet,” Poe said in a statement on Tuesday, January 5.

She filed Senate Bill No. 1968, which seeks to suspend the scheduled 3.5% increase in PhilHealth’s member contributions this year. The co-authors of the bill are Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri and Senators Joel Villanueva, Nancy Binay, and Sherwin Gatchalian .

On December 29, PhilHealth said it was “implementing the scheduled contribution rate and adjustment in income ceiling for 2021 to ensure sufficient funding for the heathcare benefits of its 110 million members” as mandated by the Universal Health Care (UHC) law.

Those earning below P10,000 per month is fixed at P350 while those earning P70,000 or higher per month is fixed at P2,450, the state health insurer said. (READ: [ANALYSIS] The inhumanity of PhilHealth’s new fees on overseas Filipinos)

The announcement enraged Filipinos whose finances have been affected by the pandemic.

In pushing for SB 1968, Poe said: “Universal healthcare is the dream for every Filipino. At a time when we need it the most, it’s unsettling to think that there are a few who are benefiting from the misery of many.”

PhilHealth was embroiled in a corruption scandal after its former anti-fraud officer Thorrsson Montes Keith claimed in a Senate inquiry in August 2020 that executives of the embattled agency might have pocketed around P15 billion through fraudulent schemes. (READ: CHEAT SHEET: Alleged PhilHealth anomalies uncovered in Congress probes)

Several top PhilHealth officials, including former chief Ricardo Morales, are now facing administrative charges.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday told his Cabinet that he wants to defer the scheduled increase but this can only be done by amending the law.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said on Tuesday that supports the deferment but said that a law must be crafted to delay the mandated hike.

“We need a law to suspend PhilHealth contributions. I will support it. But we have to look for alternative funding by realigning items in the General Appropriations Act as the actuarial life of PhilHealth is in jeopardy,” Drilon said.

‘Throw a lifeline to PhilHealth’

Drilon also urged the government to throw a lifeline to PhilHealth. 

“We cannot afford to let PhilHealth continue operating on losses. If PhilHealth’s fund is not raised by way of substantial government intervention, its credibility to reimburse hospitals will be put into question,” he added.

Drilon noted that the state health insurer was only allocated P71 billion in the 2021 budget. PhilHealth had said that it was expecting a net operating loss of P90 billion in 2020 and P147 billion in 2021, if the pandemic persists.

PhilHealth also has an outstanding debt of almost P800 million to the Philippine Red Cross for the organization’s continued COVID-19 testing services.

Time to get rid of corruption

Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson said that the deferment of the premium hike would allow a review of processes at PhilHealth to help eliminate “corruption and incompetence.”

“It is right to defer the premium hike, at least so that it can review its procedures to get rid of corruption and incompetence. Why punish members with higher premiums for the benefit of the corrupt and the incompetent?” Lacson said in a DZMM interview on Tuesday.

“We are doing what we can to contribute to the success of the UHC Act. That said, PhilHealth and the other agencies tasked with implementing it should not contribute to its failure,” he added.

The House said on Tuesday that it was “ready to review” the provisions of the UHC law and its implementing rules and regulations. Marikina City Representative Stella Quimbo also filed House Bill No. 8300 which seeks to give the President the power to suspend the scheduled increases in PhilHealth premium contributions “when public interest so requires,” including times of national emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The UHC law mandates PhilHealth to increase members’ contributions with 0.5% increments beginning 2021 until it reaches the 5% limit in 2024. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.