MANILA – Five House of Representatives leaders have filed an urgent bill empowering President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to suspend the increase in premiums of “direct contributors” of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), including employees.

In filing House Bill (HB) No. 6772, the authors said the nation has barely recovered from losses and difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, as many businesses have yet to reopen, and many people remain jobless.

Speaker Martin Romualdez, one of the authors, said the suspension of the adjustment would remove an added financial burden on millions of government and private sector workers, professionals, self-employed and other PhilHealth contributors who are still reeling from the pandemic.

He said daily wage earners and many employees, who comprise the majority of PhilHealth members, would save at least PHP50 a month or PHP600 a year from their health insurance premium payment if the adjustment will be suspended.

“Those earning more will naturally save more,” he said.

Under Republic Act No. 11223, otherwise known as the “Universal Health Care Act”, contributions will increase this year from 4 percent to 4.5 percent, or from the minimum monthly premium of PHP400 to PHP450.

The rate will further increase to 5 percent starting in 2025.

RA 11223, which was enacted in 2018, is sought to be amended by the proposed bill.

Other authors of the bill are Majority Leader Manuel Jose “Mannix” Dalipe, Senior Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand Alexander Marcos, and Tingog Party-list Reps. Yedda Marie Romualdez and Jude Acidre.

Their proposed amendment, which was filed on last Jan. 13, states: “The President of the Philippines may, upon recommendation of the PhilHealth board, suspend and adjust the period of implementation of the scheduled increase of premium rates during national emergencies or calamities, or when public interest so requires.”

It would be a new paragraph under Section 10 of the law.

In filing the amendatory bill, the authors cited the objective of the Universal Health Care Act itself, which is to “ensure that all Filipinos are guaranteed equitable access to quality and affordable health care goods and services and protected against financial risk.”

“The intent of the law is clear and cannot be overemphasized. Filipinos need and deserve a comprehensive set of health services that are cost effective, high quality and responsive to the requirements of all citizens,” they said.

“While PhilHealth only aims to fulfill and remain faithful to its mandate, imposing a higher premium on Filipinos in these current conditions where most of them are grappling with the pandemic will definitely enforce a new round of financial burden to its members,” they added.

Marcos has supported calls to defer this year’s increase in PhilHealth premiums, they said.

They noted that upon the President’s orders, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin has issued a memorandum suspending the adjustment and income ceiling for this year.

“Suspending the imposition of the new PhilHealth premium rates will provide a much-needed relief during national emergencies or calamities and will assure Filipinos that the government is sensitive to their sentiments in this difficult time,” the authors said.

RA 11223 defines direct contributors as “those who have the capacity to pay premiums, are gainfully employed and are bound by an employer-employee relationship, or are self-earning, professional practitioners, migrant workers, including their qualified dependents, and lifetime members.”

The term “indirect contributors” refers to “all others not included as direct contributors, as well as their qualified dependents, whose premium shall be subsidized by the national government including those who are subsidized as a result of special laws."

In July last year, Senator Grace Poe filed a bill seeking power for Marcos to suspend the PhilHealth premium hike. (PNA)