Duque defends PhilHealth contribution hike

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Health Secretary Francisco Duque III (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 30) — The Health Department is backing the scheduled increase in PhilHealth member contributions for 2021 even amid public distrust towards the agency that many now regard as a hotbed of fraud.

"Under the Universal Health Care law, the scheduled minimal increases in the contribution rate are needed to ensure the long-term actuarial sustainability of the system," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told CNN Philippines' The Source, referring to the state health insurance firm's capacity to meet future financial obligations in relation to revenues and risks it faces.

On Tuesday, the state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corporation announced the higher monthly premiums, which will rise in the new year to 3.5% of monthly income from 3% at present.

Starting January 1, those who have a monthly basic salary of ₱10,000 and below shall have a fixed contribution of ₱350 a month. Those earning ₱70,000 and higher per month will pay a fixed rate of ₱2,450 monthly. 

PhilHealth contributions are split equally between workers and their employees. However, those who are self-paying members, professional practitioners, and migrant workers will have to shoulder the amount in full.

The agency said higher contributions will assure enough funding for additional medical benefits and subsidies and will support various reforms under the UHC Law, Republic Act No. 11223, which prescribes that all Filipinos are automatic members of the National Health Insurance Program and may avail of PhilHealth benefits for life.

Duque said any appeals regarding the contribution hike must be raised with the PhilHealth board of directors.

The state health insurer has been tarnished with corruption allegations in recent years. In August, then president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales stepped down in the wake of a whisteblower employee baring various illegal schemes in PhilHealth, that reportedly have depleted agency funds by ₱15 billion.

The National Bureau of Investigation has filed a complaint with the Ombudsman against Morales and other PhilHealth officials.

READ: Anti-corruption body finds ‘systemic insurance fraud’ in PhilHealth

In 2019, PhilHealth figured in a ghost dialysis scheme, where dialysis centers were able to claim payments for patients even if they have not availed of the service or are already dead.

Still, the Health chief appealed to the public to give PhilHealth a fresh chance.

"Of course, the new president and CEO former NBI director Atty. Dante Gierran is on top of the reforms that are being undertaken by the management. Let’s give him sufficient time to prove his mettle and his success in instituting those much-needed reforms," Duque said.

READ: PhilHealth chief says abolition not a good idea, eyes nationwide agency reshuffle

Mandatory PhilHealth contributions have increased annually since 2020, which will be sustained until it reaches 5% of monthly income or a ₱5,000 ceiling by 2025.

In May, President Rodrigo Duterte suspended higher health premiums collected from overseas Filipino workers and made contributions voluntary, providing relief to over 300,000 displaced OFWs amid the global COVID-19 crisis.

Lawmakers were not pleased with PhilHealth's decision to implement the scheduled contribution rate hike for next year.

"Kapal ng mukha ng PhilHealth magtaas ng premium! Managot kaya muna sila sa bilyon-bilyong reserve fund na nawawala bago magdagdag-singil. Saan na naman mapupunta yang pera?" Senator Imee Marcos said in a statement.

[Translation: How can PhilHealth have the audacity to raise premiums! They should be first held liable for the billions of reserve fund that was lost before they increase their collections. Where will the money go this time?]

Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan also said the higher contributions are ill-timed as more people have been rendered hungry and jobless by the pandemic.