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There’s money for UHC law—Sotto

With or without sin taxes, Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday guaranteed that there is enough budget for the implementation of the Universal Health Care which would entail a hefty amount of P257 billion on its first year of implementation.

Interviewed before the Senate hearing on the proposed P74.1-billion budget of the Department of Health for 2019, Sotto said there is a budget and there will be budgets allocated while recognizing that sin taxes would help and can boost the government’s UHC program.

The UHC listed the following as sources of appropriations for its implementation: Incremental sin tax collecrions: 50 percent national government share from PAGCOR, 40 percent from documentary stamp payments and mandatory contributions from PCSO, premium contributions from PhilHealth members and annual appropriations of the DOH from the General Appropriations Act.

“As a matter of fact, the Department of Budget and Management slashed the DOH budget which were not used,” he said.

Papanong sasabihin na kailangan pa iyon (sin taxes) kaagad? I am not saying na hindi kailangan, it can help as I said. It can boost,” said Sotto.

Pressed anew if UHC can be implemented even without sin taxes, Sotto replied, ‘‘I think so.”

But he said the passage of the increase in sin taxes is not their priority this time.

“Let us put it this way: Hindi imperative na siya ay mapasa para lang mapatupad ang Universal Health Care package ng gobyerno. Mapapatupad yung Universal Health Care even if we are not able to pass it in the 17th Congress.”

He added that the bicam on the proposed measure to increase the sin taxes and its signing by President Rodrigo Duterte might all be done either before December or January.

He said they will have to tackle it in the 18th Congress already. “I am speaking of all the bills pending in the committees right now, not only the sin taxes bill with the committee on ways and means and the committee on health.”

Meanwhile, in the same hearing presided by Senator JV Ejercito, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III refused to “promise the moon and stars” on UHC’s implementation.

Sotto III questioned Duque if the DOH is ready to implement the bill seeking to guarantee all Filipinos equal access to quality and affordable health goods and services.

“Yes, sir, we are ready to implement it but this is a low budget bullet, this is not a panacea. It is something that we cannot and we must not promise the moon and the stars,” Duque said.

“The first year of implementation will show some kinks but as they say we have to learn from the lessons the gaps will present when the first year of implementation is made,” he added.

The health chief also said the lack of funds would be one of the problems that they will face in implementing the bill when it is enacted into law.

“The only problematic area that I can see is lack of funding for year one. We need at least P257 billion to implement the UHC its first year. The absorptive capacity of DOH has to improve and we are working towards improving our absorptive capacity,” he said.

He said that the DOH needs to tweak, expand, level up, and do gap assessment to see where the weaknesses are.

“And right now we already can see the difficulty in implementing this in the rural, geographically isolated, disadvantaged areas as well as in rural non-geographically isolated, disadvantaged areas,” said Duque.

The Senate passed last October on third and final reading the Universal Health Care bill. It is now pending at the bicameral conference committee for the reconciliation of disagreeing provisions with the version of the House of Representatives.

Under the bill, all Filipino citizens will automatically be enrolled into the National Health Insurance Program either as direct contributor (those who have the capacity to pay premiums) or indirect contributor (those sponsored by the government such as indigents and senior citizens).

The bill also seeks to expand the PhilHealth coverage to include free consultation fees, laboratory tests and other diagnostic services.

Meanwhile, senators said they would still review the ratified Expanded Maternity Leave Law to ensure its effectiveness before being submitted to the Executive Branch.

The review, she said, will be conducted again following consultations with advocates and considerations of comments coming from theDepartment of Finance (DOF) regarding the law.

“First, it has not yet been submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte, the ratified Expanded Maternity Leave Law. So that the law is still in the custody of the legislature,” Hontiveros said.

She said that the new law is very important such it is necessary to hear the sides all of stakeholders.

“We have complete confidence and belief that this would be signed by the President before the end of the year,” she said.

The Senate has already ratified the bicameral report on the proposed measure last October.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the measure’s provision adding appropriations and tax exemptions is being opposed by the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Under the expanded maternity law, working mothers will be given 105 days of paid leave. Seven of these leaves could be allocated to their husband’s paternal leave, while an additional 15 days will be given to solo mothers. 

Topics: Vicente Sotto III , Universal Health Care , Department of Budget and Management , Six tax , Rodrigo Duterte , Expanded Maternity Leave Law , JV Ejercito , Francisco Duque III
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