Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon thumbed down the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s plan to postpone the full implementation of the Universal Health Care Act, underscoring that the law is critical in the fight against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“The precarious state of our current healthcare system is indeed very alarming. It affects our ability to win the war against this pandemic,” Drilon said in a statement on Wednesday.
“But to halt the implementation of a law that would promote access to affordable care, strengthen our primary health care and make our people healthy to fight the virus is a step in the wrong direction,” Drilon said.
Drilon said there is a need to address Philhealth’s precarious position for it to be able to sustain its funding but said that it should not be at the expense of the people who are relying on UHC for their health needs.
Health Undersecretary Mario Villaverde said the bulk of the Department of Health’s P182-billion proposed budget for 2021 will be aligned in the implementation of the UHC Law and in the improving the health system resiliency against infectious disease like COVID-19.
He said P53.20 billion or 29 percent will be allocated for UHC implementation-related programs while P20.89 billion or 11 percent will be for the Health System Resilience for Emerging Infectious Diseases or Pandemic-related Proposals.
“So you can see here that the bulk or the major proportion of the budget proposal will actually be going to UHC and the health system resilience,” Drilon said during the hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Universal Health Care Law.
In the same hearing, Senator Bong Go proposed to fellow lawmakers, concerned government agencies and other stakeholders to review the UHC law due to concerns from overseas Filipino workers over the increased premium contribution.
Go said that for universal health care to be sustainable, the country needs "to secure the necessary funding that will keep the program in good running shape."
"While we have to make sure that the funds are allocated properly, we also have to take into consideration that the world is in a crisis," added Go, who chairs the Senate health committee.
However, Go noted that "most people, especially individually paying members like our OFWs, cannot afford to pay the premium at this time" due to the pandemic. This prompted the government to make contributions voluntary for them at this time. "
Go added that it is important "to study the need to amend the law in consideration of the concerns raised by some sectors."
He also said that the intent of the said hearing is to revisit and review the implementation of the law, enhance it further to cope with current situation by taking into consideration the current plight of the Filipinos amid the global health crisis, and study possible amendments to improve it further without compromising the ability of the government to realize its vision of providing universal health care to all Filipinos.
Executive Director Ellene Sana of the Center for Migrant Advocacy said that their immediate recommendation is the issuance of a moratorium on the collection of payments for OFWs until the end of the year or until the law has been amended.
But she pointed out that they remain steadfast on their belief that OFWs should be included in the Universal Health Care policy.
Some OFW groups, however, proposed for contributions be made voluntary under a fixed rate scheme.
Go also asked PhilHealth what steps it has taken so far after the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte to make premium contributions voluntary.
PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales responded, saying that they have issued an advisory to make premium contributions voluntary during the pandemic. He however noted, however, that to make such policy permanent, it will require a legislative amendment.