Higher pandemic response cost won’t derail UHC–DOF


DESPITE increased spending for the Covid-19 response, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said they will not let the  pandemic derail the government’s implementation of Universal Health Care (UHC).

Dominguez said the government continues to fund the implementation of UHC even amid the pandemic.

Under this year’s national budget, the government has allocated P71.4 billion for UHC.  Meanwhile, the government is proposing P80 billion for UHC in next year’s national budget.

“Again, for 2022, we proposed an allocation of P80 billion for the premium subsidies for indirect contributors under the UHC law,” he told reporters in an interview.

“Moreover,  PhilHealth [Philippine Health Insurance Corporation] still has around P164 billion in its reserve fund as of June 2021 for the implementation of [UHC], so the UHC will not be compromised by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he added.

The finance chief made the response after Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research warned in a recent report that the health crisis would likely delay the country’s goal of achieving universal health care.

Fitch Solutions also said PhilHealth might not meet its targets for expanded coverage as increased spending has been refocused on Covid-19 response.

Apart from this, the research arm also expressed concern that the funding sources for the UHC program are “under pressure” as excise taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, which are used to subsidize health-care costs, are expected to decline.

For this year, the government hopes to attain its P297.8-billion full-year collection target despite the reimposition of stricter lockdown measures to address the Delta-fueled surge in Covid-19 cases.

The BusinessMirror earlier reported that excise tax collection from “sin” products from January to July this year grew 25.5 percent to P173.1 billion from P138 billion, the same period in 2020 as lockdown restrictions were eased.

Most of the excise taxes collected during the seven-month period came from tobacco products at P104.2 billion, reflecting a 34-percent spike from last year’s P77.7 billion.

In 2020, total sin tax collection dropped by 3.27 percent to P260.58 billion from P269.4 billion in 2019 amid the economic recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite this, the government exceeded last year its downgraded goal of P235.3 billion.

Under Republic Act (RA) 11346 that was signed into law in July 2019, excise taxes on tobacco products were further increased to P50 per pack this year from P45 per pack a year ago.

Excise taxes on alcohol, heated tobacco products, and vapor products were also further raised under RA 11467.

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