SENATE leaders have assured the people that the Universal Health Care (UHC) law that would deliver health care to all Filipinos could still be implemented as planned even without fresh revenues from higher tobacco tax.
Senate Health Committee chair Sen. JV Ejercito said even if the Senate failed to approve the bill increasing tobacco tax before it adjourned for the May elections, funds remain adequate to ensure smooth implementation of UHC.
“There will be funds available for UHC,” Ejercito, who is pushing for a P90 additional tax per pack for cigarettes, said in a recent radio interview.
The senator said the 2019 General Appropriations Act and funds coming from PAGCOR and PCSO will ensure funding for the UHC in two years of implementation.
He also said the additional P18 billion “savings” that were discovered during the Senate budget deliberations of the proposed 2019 outlay will further boost the UHC.
This is contrary to the repeated claims of health advocates, the Department of Finance (DoF) and the Department of Health (DoH) that the non-passage of higher tobacco tax would imperil the effective rollout of the UHC, the senator said.
“To the tobacco industry, don’t think we are charging everything from you. We will find the sweet spot. We do not want to kill the industry. We understand that hundreds of thousands depend on the industry for the livelihood,” Ejercito said during previous hearings on the proposed increase in tobacco excise tax.
Even Senate President Tito Sotto earlier clarified that with or without sin taxes, there is enough budget for the implementation of the UHC which would entail a hefty amount of P257 billion in its first year of implementation.
Officials of DoF and DoH have claimed that the UHC is short of P40 billion for its first year of implementation.
The UHC has the following as sources of funds: Incremental sin tax collections: 50 percent national government share from PAGCOR, 40 percent from documentary stamp payments and mandatory contributions from PCSO, premium contributions from PhilHealth members and annual appropriations of the DoH from the General Appropriations Act.
“Let us put it this way: Hindi imperative na siya ay mapasa para lang mapatupad angUniversal Health Care package ng gobyerno. Mapapatupad yung Universal Health Care even if we are not able to pass it in the 17th Congress,” Sotto stressed.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto has also said instead of relying on tobacco tax to fund the big part of UHC, the government may consider other tax sources such as adjusting further sugar tax that could translate to P5 billion in additional revenues.
Recto said on top of their earmarked funds for UHC, Pagcor could still add with P5 billion while PCSO could afford to ‘donate’ an additional P10 billion for the UHC.
The Senate leader said the government could also get extra funds if PhilHealth would lessen its fraudulent claims, which could lead to P5 billion in “saved” premiums.
Sen. Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chair of the Senate ways and means panel, said even if the Senate failed to out its own tobacco tax bill, “there is an agreement in principle to increase the excise tax on tobacco products in order to raise funds for the Universal Health Care bill and substantially reduce the smoking prevalence among the youth.”