Hontiveros says DOH's P10-billion budget cut an 'attack on public health'

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday, September 19, asked the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Health (DOH) why health funds for next year were slashed by around P10 billion.

"The DOH budget cut is illogical, counterproductive, and even criminal. It is an attack on public health," Hontiveros said in a statement.

The lower health budget comes at a time when viral disease outbreaks – dengue, measles, and polio – are happening left and right, and when the recently signed Universal Health Care (UHC) Act is set to be rolled out.

Under the 2020 National Expenditure Program, the health department has a combined allocation of P159.2 billion – P92.2 billion for DOH and P67 billion for the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). The amount is 5% lower than the 2019 appropriation of P169.45 billion.

Hontiveros noted that the allocation for the UHC law would require at least P241.8 billion to P247 billion for the first year of implementation. Yet, the allocation for UHC lacks about P70 billion. (EXPLAINER: What Filipinos can expect from the Universal Health Care Law)

Why does this matter? Next year's proposed funds for the UHC stood at about P171.5 billion.

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At the Senate budget hearing on Wednesday, September 18, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales appealed before the finance committee to increase UHC funds.

"We appeal to you…the UHC law in the first year of implementation will require P50 billion for the national rollout of our primary care benefit packages," Duque said.

APPEAL. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III asks for additional funds for the Universal Health Care program. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

APPEAL. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III asks for additional funds for the Universal Health Care program.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Morales, meanwhile, said that the proposed amount for UHC implementation in 2020 would not cover all PhilHealth members. He's asking for a total budget of P152 billion to cover the entire Philippine population of 110 million Filipinos.

Morales said that PhilHealth's proposed budget of P67 billion would only cover 30.6 million members, which in effect excludes the members' beneficiaries. PhilHealth's 2017 data showed that it has close to 97 million beneficiaries, 49.5 million of which are members.

Because of the lower budget, the DOH only identified 33 areas for the healthcare law's pilot implementation next year.

On Wednesday, DOH and PhilHealth's budgets were approved at the committee level, and will be scheduled for interpellations on the Senate floor.

Hontiveros on Thursday vowed to push for a higher DOH budget during plenary debates. – with reports from Janelle Paris/Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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