Bill to give Marcos power to freeze PhilHealth fees

CONGRESS was asked to frontload passage of urgent remedial legislation empowering President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to suspend any increase in the current rate of PhilHealth contributions to “spare Filipinos from an additional burden in critical times.”

This as Senator Grace Poe filed an enabling bill authorizing the President to freeze a looming increase in contributions to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth). Poe noted that the higher contribution rates sought to be imposed “comes at a time when our people continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic and the soaring prices of basic needs.”

The senator stressed that “right now, we (in Congress) must heed their distress call for food to feed their families and jobs to help them get by, with the least burden and utmost support from government.”

Poe clarified in a statement issued last Monday that the proposed remedial legislation aims to “provide that in the event of a state of national emergency or public health emergency or state of national calamity, the President, upon the recommendation of the PhilHealth board after consultation with stakeholders, may suspend the increase in premium contributions.

As proposed, she added, the enabling bill seeking to amend Republic Act 11223 embodying the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act. The law stipulates that the mandated increase may be implemented upon the lifting of the declaration of a state of national emergency, public health emergency or of national calamity.

“By giving the President the power and authority to suspend such increases in times of need, we are also providing our countrymen a critical lifeline,” Poe said. The solon also aired hopes her bill will be “given due attention to halt a Philhealth contribution hike” imposed starting June this year. The premium rate currently being collected is at 4 percent from the previous 3 percent.

She noted that being retroactive from January, “this means that on top of the increased contributions, PhilHealth members would also have to pay an additional premium of 1 percent from January to May.”

The Senator said that under the law, the premium rate should increase by 0.5 percent yearly, starting from 3 percent in 2020 until it hits 5 percent. She recalled that In January last year, then President Rodrigo Duterte directed PhilHealth to defer the scheduled hike amid the health crisis.

The lawmaker lamented that while the goals of the Universal Health Care Act and the National Health Insurance program are desirable, “the increase is ill-timed.”

Poe pointed out that “the country is still recovering from the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, and our people are trying to adjust to the new normal.

“Some have just gotten back to work or re-opened their businesses while still struggling to make ends meet and pay off debts,” she added.

The Senator cautioned that “any untimely increase can dim the hope and dent the ability of our countrymen to survive at this challenging time,” suggesting that “we must look after them with concern and compassion.”