Temporary halt on PhilHealth premiums for minimum wage earners sought

By Jose Cielito Reganit

February 20, 2024, 1:18 pm

<p>(PNA file photo)</p>

(PNA file photo)

MANILA – Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo has filed a resolution urging the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to temporarily suspend premium contributions for all minimum wage earners pending review of benefits expansion and contributions reduction.

House Resolution 1595, which was filed Monday afternoon, seeks to use the unspent appropriations allocated to PhilHealth for premium subsidies, providing immediate financial relief to the country's economically vulnerable workers.

In a statement Tuesday, Quimbo noted that in 2022, Congress appropriated PHP80 billion to subsidize premiums of indigent families, senior citizens, and persons with disability to PhilHealth.

However, PhilHealth reported that it failed to spend PHP24 billion of the said amount.

In 2023, Congress again provided an appropriation amounting to PHP79 billion as premiums subsidy but PhilHealth left PHP39 billion unspent.

“The unspent premium of PhilHealth can very well cover the premium contributions of minimum wage earners for at least a year since in 2022 their premium contribution only amounted to PHP19.6 billion,” Quimbo pointed out.

She also noted that PhilHealth's financial reserves are expected to reach PHP463 billion in 2023, marking a 68-percent increase from the previous year.

This surplus has accumulated from premiums collected from members, as well as subsidies from Congress that have remained unspent.

Quimbo said this surplus suggests that PhilHealth can afford to suspend premium contributions for minimum wage earners without compromising its financial stability.

“The unspent funds, originally designated for the health coverage of senior citizens and the poorest segments of the population, highlight an opportunity to redirect resources temporarily to alleviate the financial burden on minimum wage earners,” she said.

She said the temporary suspension of premium contributions of minimum wage earners increases disposable income, offering an average monthly wage boost of about PHP400 in the NCR for non-agricultural workers.

Quimbo’s resolution also seeks to reassess PhilHealth’s benefit packages and the premium contribution rates as provided by the Universal Health Care Law.

“This temporary suspension is not just about providing short-term economic relief but also about initiating a comprehensive review of PhilHealth’s benefits and contribution structure. The goal is to expand health benefits for all members and potentially reform the contribution structure, or even to possibly eliminate premiums for minimum wage earners and self-employed individuals earning the equivalent of minimum wages,” she said.

Aligned with Speaker Martin Romualdez’s advocacy for PhilHealth to offer Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)-like benefits, Quimbo's resolution seeks to design benefit packages focused on illness prevention and improved hospitalization support, making healthcare spending more efficient and rational.

“In the long run, it is cheaper to prevent than to cure. In the end, we can have a more rational spending on healthcare. This will boil down to a more rational amount of PhilHealth contributions by our workers, as well as annual appropriations from Congress,” Quimbo said. (PNA)