SSS, PhilHealth draw ire

 Members up in arms vs higher payments

A PUBLIC outcry arose against the increases in the monthly contributions for members of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and the Social Security System (SSS) even as the Palace justified the increases which took effect Jan. 1.

“The increase in contributions has been studied carefully based on costs and benefits because certainly, the benefits are not for free. Someone has to assume the burden of those benefits,” said Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma.

“In the case of SSS, there is a sharing of the burden and the sharing of the burden is between the employers and the employees. In the case of PhilHealth, it is between the beneficiary and the government,” Coloma added.

Labor groups slammed the increase in SSS premiums, saying it would not improve services and would not immediately translate to better benefits for members.

But Coloma said PhilHealth members will enjoy more benefits such as the Z-package for certain catastrophic diseases, including breast and prostate cancer and leukemia.

Employed PhilHealth members who used to pay monthly contributions of P175 will now have to pay P200, to be shared equally with their employers.

Self-employed PhilHealth members or individually paying members who used to pay a monthly contribution of P150 are now also required to give P200.

Employed SSS members, on the other hand, will be paying an additional 0.3 percent for their monthly contributions.

Self-employed, voluntary members and overseas Filipino workers will be paying 0.6 percent more every month.

Employees have complained that the spike in monthly contributions came after the SSS board members awarded themselves fat bonuses of up to more than P1 million each, a move that President Benigno Aquino III defended.

“Thereís a system. There is a process that has to be undergone. And, if youíre talking about the SSS, the solidity of the fund has been addressed through the efforts of the board and the personnel management of the SSS,” Aquino said in an earlier interview.

The President said the bottom line is that government-owned corporations such as the SSS can only declare bonuses if their agencies make money.

SSS board members have drawn much flak for rewarding themselves with P9.3 million in bonuses, or about P1 million per board member.

Governance Commission for GOCCs spokesman Paolo Salvosa said 19 other GOCCs were granted bonuses for hitting at least 90 percent of their income target in 2012, including the Development Bank of the Philippines, Government Service Insurance System, and Land Bank of the Philippines.

Salvosa earlier said that the performance-based incentives received by SSS executives were “reasonable” and that credit should be given where it is due.

“If they have done work to ensure that SSS funds grow, then we should give them compensation,” Salvosa said.

He said government needs to give competitive pay and incentives to officials of GOCCs to attract more capable people from the private sector.

Salvosa also encouraged SSS members to file complaints so that these would be taken into account when the performance of SSS executives are being evaluated.

Various labor groups slammed the increase in SSS payments.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno said the increase in SSS premium would not improve the benefits of millions of its members but would only give SSS officials more bonuses and allocate funds to other purposes.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, on the other hand, said the hike was ill-timed.

The TUCP urged the government to make the increase voluntary for workers who earned more.

Anakpawis coordinator Michael Cabangon said the increase in SSS payments would surely be another

financial burden on the millions of workers who receive a measly daily income of not more than P400 a day.

Cabangon said many employers are not even paying their workerís SSS premiums. He cited the case of the workers of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co., which did not pay their SSS contributions for years.

The SSS has been pressing for an increase in member contributions over the last two years to cover growing expenses due to pensions, saying it would be forced to use its reserves if it did not increase premiums.

The KMU on Thursday picketed the SSS main office in Quezon City to protest the increase in members’ contributions.

As early as April last year, SSS president and chief executive officer Emilio S. de Quiros had announced that the agency would increase premiums from 10.4 percent to 11 percent.

The announcement was met with protests, particularly after it was learned that De Quiros and other members of the board had declared fat bonuses for themselves.

Lawmakers on Thursday also denounced the increased premiums for SSS and PhilHealth, saying these were done without enough public consultation.

Militant lawmakers urged the House leaders to finally schedule a congressional probe into the financial managementof the SSS.

The lawmakers said that the higher contribution rates would definitely be an added burden on members, who were already suffering from a rising cost of living.

AKO-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe said the Filipino people should not be punished further.

“Our people have been suffering already from the successive calamities and price increases of commodities and they cannot take the twin blows from the SSS and PhilHealth,” Batocabe told the Manila Standard.

Batocabe said Congress, through its inherent powers of oversight, should look into the reasonableness and propriety of the planned increase in premiums by the state pension and health agencies.

“We have to look at the very least for safety nets to cushion the impact on our people,” Batocabe said.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan said that the appropriate committee in the House should investigate why the SSS was demanding higher premiums while granting its board fat bonuess.

“Through the years, the SSS has become more of a burden to workers and retirees rather than an institution that can be relied on for their benefits. And what is Malacanang doing? Instead of probing this, they are backing the hike in contributions,” Ilagan said.

Earlier, De Quiros Jr. confirmed that he and seven other commissioners of the private-sector pension fund got at least P1 million each as bonuses for their ìgood performanceî in 2012.

This prompted Bayan Muna party-list Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate to file House Resolution 369 asking the House committee on good government and public accountability to investigate the SSS bonuses.

“Amid reports of fat bonuses and proposals to increase workersí contributions it is but high time that we scrutinize how the SSS has been managing its finances. Why does the SSS need to impose this

increase in workersí contributions?” Ilagan said.

On the other hand, Ilagan said the services PhilHealth provides are limited and yet it has the gall to increase its members’ contribution.

“Hello! The ordinary worker can barely make ends meet. Health is a right not a privilege,” Ilagan said.

House committee on good government chairman Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez vowed to look into the matter when Congress resumes session on Jan. 20.

Administration lawmakers Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. and Paranaque Rep. Gus Tambunting also denounced the rate increase imposed by the SSS and the PhilHealth.

Barzaga said the SSS and the PhilHealth must explain to the Filipino people why the increase in premiums was needed.

Tambunting said that the SSS board should also explain why they deserved big bonuses.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon said public consultations should have been held before premiums were increased. In the absense of these, the increases were illegal, he said.

“We cannot allow premium hikes to be undertaken without a review of the compensation and performance system of the SSS. The same principle should also apply to the PhilHealth hike,” Ridon said.

A source from the SSS said a few members of the board decided not to take their P1 million bonuses last year after these were exposed. These were Bienvenido E. Laguesma, P1.30 million; Daniel L. Edralin, P1.12 million; and Marianita O. Mendoza, P1.02 million, the source said. With Maricel V. Cruz, Vito Barcelo and Jennifer Ambanta



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