EMERGENCY powers granted to the President to suspend PhilHealth premium increases may pose a danger to public health, according to local economists at the Action for Economic Reforms (AER).
AER said while they recognize the need to suspend PhilHealth premium increases during calamities and national emergencies, this should be accompanied by well-defined conditions and parameters.
Without clear guidelines, this may be abused and allow arbitrariness in making decisions on premium hikes. This could have “devastating consequences on our health system and the economy.”
“Invoking a nebulous concept of ‘public interest’ as an excuse to suspend or prolong premium payments deceives,” a statement by the organization read. “This will reduce the provision of health goods and services and at the same will increase the out-of-expenses for health care, especially among the lower-income groups.”
The AER appealed to the Senate to reject House Bill (HB) 6772 that, the organization believes, could “aggravate” the country’s fiscal position. If there are no increases in premiums, the government could incur more debt and resort to greater deficit spending.
“We appeal to the Senate to reject House Bill 6772 in its current form. The passage of this bill endangers the steady financing of PhilHealth, which in turn can negatively affect the lives of millions,” AER said.
Influenced by politics
THE AER explained that “the premium contributions provide more Filipinos with access to life-saving healthcare services.”
However, the organization of economists said that “allowing the suspension of PhilHealth premium hikes to be influenced by politics will only move us further away from our dream of Universal Health Care (UHC) for all Filipinos.”
On March 21, 2023, the House of Representatives voted in favor of HB 6772 on its third and final reading. This bill grants the President of the Philippines the power to suspend and adjust the increase in premium rates for direct contributors of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).
The lawmakers, through the bill, gives power to the president to suspend premium hikes during “national emergencies or calamities, or when public interest so requires.”
The AER noted that data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed that in the medium term, there is still a funding gap of at least P163.6 billion for the DOH-OSEC and PhilHealth to meet the funding requirements for the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law (Republic Act 11223).
This funding gap will only widen further if PhilHealth premiums do not increase in the next few years, consequently delaying the full implementation of the UHC, the AER said.