The passage of the bill increasing taxes on tobacco products is a fitting gift of the 17th Congress to the people, a pro-administration congressman said on Saturday.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte said the bill’s passage will save thousands of lives as well as provide needed funds for Universal Health Care.
Villafuerte said the House under the leadership of Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has always looked after the interests of the majority of the people.
“Passing a ‘sin’ tax reform law that provides for significant increases in the prices of tobacco products is a fitting last gift of the 17th Congress to the people and a concrete demonstration of support for the President’s pro-poor agenda,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte said the passage by both the Senate and the House on the eve of their sine die adjournment of the ‘sin’ tax bill is a feather in the cap of Speaker Arroyo.
“The bill’s a fitting cap to the legacy of a highly productive 17th Congress that has written landmark social legislation in support of President Duterte’s commitment to ensure that all Filipinos truly benefit from sustained high growth by way of better living standards for all,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte noted higher taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products would benefit most especially poor and low-income Filipinos as the would-be revenues from this measure are meant to cover the funding gap of the Universal Health Care Law that was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last February.
He pointed out the UHC would go for naught had Congress failed to pass the “sin” tax hike bill as this measure alone would ensure adequate funding for the Duterte administration’s goal of providing free health care to all Filipino.
“The congressional approval of the new ‘sin’ tax bill tight will help the government accomplish its twofold objectives of discouraging smoking and raising enough revenues for UHC, which, in turn, will let President Duterte achieve his goal of attacking poverty and improving the lives of Filipinos,” he said.
“It would have been an opportunity lost if the legislature had failed to pass this new ‘sin’ tax reform law before the sine die adjournment as it would be back to square one for the measure when the 18th Congress opens in July,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte said a new law setting even higher tax rates on cigarettes and other tobacco products to discourage smoking and help fund UHC is one potent way to make sure that the benefits of the continued economic growth surge on the Duterte watch trickle down and benefit all Filipinos.
According to the Department of Finance, the first year of UHC’s implementation in 2020 will require some P258 billion to implement, of which P195 billion can be covered by the government from its current funding sources.
Without a new sin tax reform law, UHC will be left with a funding gap of around P62 billion in the first year alone.
The Department of Health said the UHC, without a steady funding source from higher “sin” taxes, will mean that Philippine Health Insurance Corp. members will continue to be covered for only 18 primary care drugs and seven conditions while shouldering 90 percent of the cost of prescribed medicines.
But with the “sin” tax hike, PhilHealth coverage will expand to cover 120 drugs and there will be no limit on primary care treatment. The DOH has also proposed that medicine purchases will be limited to a fixed fee—the cost of the transaction alone.