Health Care advocate Dr. Anthony Leachon of the Sin Tax Coalition described the approval of the Universal Health as a “gamechanger” for the country’s healthcare as he renewed their call to increase taxes on tobacco.
“The recent developments have increased the impetus to lobby for higher tobacco taxes,” said Leachon, who is also a PhilHealth independent director.
While there will be pooling of resources from casino and lotto income, Leachon, however, noted that this is unpredictable and might not meet the need for sustained funding.
He said the successful implementation of UHC will require enormous financing that cannot be supplied by the current pool of funds.
He added that over and above the direct health benefits of curbing tobacco use, an increase in tobacco tax will help fund UHC, and improve healthcare access by solving chronic problems such as the severe shortage in healthcare workers.
“UHC without sustainable funding will not work. It’s the most important issue that should be tackled before its final approval.,” he said.
Because of this, Leachon said, they at the Sin Tax Coalition is again calling for higher sin taxes for tobacco and alcohol to address this problem.
The Sin Tax Coalition is a multi-sectoral coalition composed of healthcare professional organizations, civil society organizations and youth groups that has been pushing for an increase in tobacco taxes, over and above tax rates imposed by RA 10351 (Sin Tax Law of 2012).
He said the goal of the coalition is to protect the health of Filipinos by averting an epidemic of 1M new smokers by the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term in 2022.
“Our proposal included an initial increase in tobacco tax from P30 to P60, followed by an annual increase of 9 percent. This proposal targeted a decrease in the number of smokers from 14M to 13M by 2022,” Leachon said.
“Sadly, the proposal was not even considered during deliberations for the recently passed TRAIN law. Neither the Senate nor the Lower House addressed the health problem caused by the smoking epidemic,” he added.
He said that instead, a token increase of P2.50 was passed at the last minute, increasing to P5.00 by July 2018.
But Leachon emphasized that this increase is insufficient to curb smoking.
Under the present tax regime, Leachon said it is estimated that there will still be 500,000 new smokers by 2022.
The coalition also expressed support to Sen. JV Ejercito’s Senate Bill 1605 that seeks to increase the tobacco excise tax rate to P90 followed by an annual increase of 9%.
“This is sufficient to fund the plans for UHC,” said Leachin, as they called on legislators to set up meeting with Senate Ways and means committee chairperson Sen Sonny Angara to hold hearings on the tobacco tax proposals as soon as possible.
He recalled that during their last meeting with Angara in November 7, 2017, the senator promised that hearings on tobacco tax will begin in 2018.
“We hope and pray that our leaders will look at the big picture that genuine UHC will never be realized without adequate funding, he added.
Former Sec. Jean Paulyn Ubial, meanwhile, said budget is essential for the UHC law to really work.
“Hope there will be no more budget cuts in health! Ideal ratios cannot be met, like 1 doctor per 10,000 population in Primary Health Care and 1 Hospital Bed per 800 population,” she said.