FORMER Senate President and returning senatorial candidate Juan Ponce Enrile has brought attention to the financial viability of the recently-signed Universal Healthcare (UHC) Act, citing that funds will have to be diverted from infrastructure, education, defense, and other sectors of government spending to bankroll the program.
“This field must be carefully studied. Healthcare involves money -- lots of it and from the public. It will involve the financial capacity of the taxpayers to fund a healthcare program,” said Enrile, who previously served as Secretary of Finance under the administration of then President Ferdinand Marcos.
“They need to get it from other present sources of revenue, so you have to reduce from infrastructure, education, or defense so you can fulfill that program,” Enrile explained, adding:
“You have to study all of these and balance the need of the people to have income in their pockets to consume so that the economy will grow and the need of the government to provide services to the people plus investment for infrastructure.”
Last February 20, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the UHC measure into law, which automatically enrolls all Filipino citizens into the National Health Insurance Program and provides equal access to affordable health care.
The Department of Health (DoH) estimates that a projected P257 billion is needed to jumpstart the project in its first year of implementation, considering a 10-year adjustment period for the reforms of that law.
Presently, the DoH is pushing for the passage of legislation to increase the tax on “sin products” such as tobacco and alcoholic drinks to fund the newly-signed healthcare act.
Despite agreeing with the benefits of a higher sin tax to dissuade the public from consumption, Enrile cautions against a “very exorbitant tax”.
“Cigarettes, it can cause you a lot of sickness. In the same way that alcohol can also cause you a lot of sickness. But I will not agree with a very exorbitant tax on them,” the former Senator shared.
“The moment they increase the tax too high, you induce smuggling and cheating,” the former Senate President, who also briefly served as Customs Commissioner under former President Marcos, warned.
However, Enrile backs the Universal Healthcare Act, especially in view of its benefits to indigents and senior citizens.
“At my age, I need universal healthcare. Ang question diyan ay kaya ba ng ekonomiya natin yan? Kaya ba ng source of income ng government yan? Everything boils down to money – creation of jobs, industrialization, healthcare, all of that requires money. It’s just a question of where do you get it and how much,” the four-term senator said.