PhilHealth wants delayed implementation of Universal Healthcare Law over low collections

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The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation on Tuesday recommended to Congress a "general delay" in the implementation of the Universal Healthcare Law due to the low collection of contributions. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 16)— The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation on Tuesday recommended to Congress a "general delay" in the implementation of the Universal Healthcare Law due to the low collection of contributions.

PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales told lawmakers that the agency has not received significant payments from contributors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our collection is about ten percent what it was last year," he said in a joint congressional oversight hearing on the UHC Law. "The collection from the direct contributors has dropped significantly kasi wala hong negosyo, walang nagbabayad ng premium sa mga direct contributors."

[Translation: The collection from the direct contributors has dropped significantly because businesses are down, no one is paying premiums among the direct contributors.]

According to PhiliHealth, direct contributors are the private, government and informal sectors plus lifetime members, while indirect contributors refer to senior citizens, sponsored beneficiaries and members under the National Household Targeting System.

Morales said the agency's benefit expenses as of April 30 have reached over ₱52.5 billion while collections only amounted to ₱46.5 billion.

This prompted the agency to recommend a postponement of the expansion of primary care benefit packages, which Health Secretary Francisco Duque said was set for next month, to January 2021 instead.

"What we proposed to do is to focus on the lighter expenditure of the primary healthcare such as accreditation...of providers," said Morales. "If we have better data, maybe we can start to introduce later on the primary healthcare packages, depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out."

But lawmakers sounded the alarm on the recommendation, saying the present COVID-19 crisis reinforces the need to roll out primary care.

"With the realization na nangyari ang COVID-19 at ang pandemic hindi ba mas kailangan natin paigtingin 'yung implementation of primary care services?" said House Committee on Health chairman Quezon 4th District Rep. Helen Tan.

[Translation: With the realization that the COVID-19 pandemic has happened, doesn't it mean that we need to intensify the implementation of primary care services?]

Morales clarified that they can still afford to provide the primary healthcare benefits since funds have already been laid out for it. However, he warned that a budget deficit could continue until 2024 amid the pandemic due to PhilHealth maintaining benefit payouts for COVID-19-related confinements and testing worth P40.7 billion.

OFW premiums

PhilHealth also said the requirement for OFWs to settle PhilHealth payments first before acquiring an overseas employee certificate will no longer be enforced.

The PhilHealth chief explained that it was initially required so that they can keep a registry of OFWs, considering that only over 300,000 out of millions of them have been giving contributions.

Morales reiterated that premium payments for overseas Filipino workers are now on a voluntary basis and will continue for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic – a move lauded by several OFW groups.

However, Morales admitted that he was against the voluntary arrangement.

"It will compromise the fundamental argument for insurance if a segment of the membership will be voluntary because the other membership segments might also ask for the same privilege. So baka makompromiso 'yung ating [it may compromise our] national health insurance program," he raised.

Meanwhile, other PhilHealth members were given a flexible payment scheme of one year after their initial payment. This means they do not need to pay PhilHealth on a monthly basis until a year later but can still avail of membership benefits, the agency's chief said.