DOH, lawmakers allay funding fears on Universal Health Care law

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 21) — There's enough funding for the first leg of the implementation of the recently signed Universal Health Care (UHC) law, government officials said.

In a media briefing Thursday, officials of the Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) and some lawmakers said there's money to fund the law.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque said that without the law raising taxes on alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, the UHC program would face a budget shortfall.

"Initially we thought there was going to be a funding gap of P40 billion ... mukhang merong mahahanap daw na pondo para mapuno ang puwang (but it looks like they will find funds to fill that gap)," Duque said.

The UHC law, which aims to expand the coverage of the government health insurance program, relies partially on sin taxes for additional funding.

Funds for the UHC law would also be sourced from the charity fund of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, income from the Philippine Gaming Corporation, members' contributions, the national budget for the Department of Health (DOH) and government subsidies.

Senator JV Ejercito, chair of the Senate committee on health and a member of the bicameral conference committee that drafted the 2019 budget, said that additional funds have been added for the implementation of the UHC in this year's spending plan.

"During the bicam, the Senate added P18 billion additional for the implementation of Universal Health Care," Ejercito said in the same media briefing.

He said that combined with the budgets for the DOH's Health Facilities Enhancement Program and Human Resource for Health network, this would lead to a P30.8 billion additional budget for UHC.

Philhealth officials also said they would raise additional contributions from direct contributors to cover the needs of the law.

"We need this premium collections for the fund life of the corporation. If we do not aggressively do this, there will be no fund life," said Philhealth President and CEO Roy Ferrer.

Ejercito said that to make up for the additional contributions, special incentives must be given to premium Philhealth contributors.

"We will come up with a special incentive, special package, for the direct contributors so that they will continue to pay the premiums," he said.

In the meantime, the DOH will prioritize expanding the reach of health care services to geographically disadvantaged and isolated areas.

Duque also reminded the public that the law would, at the earliest, be implemented after six months.

"The DOH and Philhealth have to come together to call resource persons to meaningfully craft the IRR for a successful implementation of the UHC law. It is not correct to think that the Universal Health Care law will happen overnight or after 180 days," Duque explained.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the UHC law on Wednesday.

READ: Duterte signs Universal Health Care law