The wish list continues to grow for President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr., with key sectors adding on proposed measures that they want the new administration to support to improve the lives of ordinary Filipinos.
The items presented on Friday were for expanding financial support to the health sector and another to benefit large parts of the country that are vulnerable to natural disasters.
Groups representing health-care workers want the new government to prioritize and raise spending for health in general plus a pay hike for entry-level nurses and other health-care providers so they won’t have to leave their families for better pay abroad.
Robert Mendoza, president of Alliance of Health Workers, which has 37,000 members nationwide, said his group wanted to see a bigger share of the national budget for health care in proportion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
He said the government spending on health-care should be increased to 10 percent of GDP. The latest government statistics show that total health expenditures’ share in the GDP rose to 5.6 percent in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, from 4.7 percent in 2019.
“We wish that the incoming government officials who won would give priority to health … as well increase the budget for health care because we all know that we are still in a pandemic,” Mendoza told the Inquirer in an interview.
The new administration should also increase the monthly pay of government front-line health workers with Salary Grade 1 to P25,000 from P13,000 to give them a “living wage,” he said.
It is also “vital” for the next administration to open up more regular positions for health workers as they are essential to the government’s pandemic response, Mendoza said.
Melvin Miranda, national president of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA), said his group’s request was for Marcos to push for the passage of bills to amend the Philippine Nursing Act that would resolve the “perennial problem” concerning the salaries and benefits of nurses in both private and public hospitals.
“I think our nurses would be happy to stay here in the country if we will have a good system of compensation and benefits and as well as timely disbursement of this compensation,” he told the Inquirer.
The 100-year-old professional organization of nurses has around 73,000 members.
At the House of Representatives, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said he also was hoping that Marcos would prioritize reforms in the health-care system, particularly in the “broken” Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), the state health insurer.
The repairs would include, among others, premium payments, especially those being made by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Salceda said PhilHealth should be “fairer” to OFWs, who might end up paying as much as P38,400 a year in mandatory contributions that would not benefit them as there were no Philippine hospitals outside the country.
“That’s more expensive, frankly, than most general life insurance coverages. And for what? It is literally impossible for an OFW to avail of PhilHealth coverage while abroad,” he said.
Salceda said he will refile an amended version of his proposed PhilHealth Reform Act, when the 19th Congress opens in July, urging the incoming Marcos administration to prioritize reforms in the state health insurer and the health-care system.
“I do hope that reforming health care is among the top of President BBM’s list,” he said.
Salceda also cited growing criticisms of PhilHealth’s plan to implement a 4-percent increase in monthly contributions starting next month, which would be retroactive to January.
Those who had paid the current premium of 3 percent from January to May will have the rest of the year to settle the 1 percent difference for the five-month period, but they will have to pay the 4 percent premium starting in June.
Those earning P10,000 and below monthly will pay a P400 monthly contribution. Those earning over P10,000 but below P80,000 will pay between P400 to P3,200. A flat rate of P3,200 will be charged against those earning above P80,000.
Salceda’s bill proposed “systemic reforms” in the collection system, management of the reserve fund, the distribution and verification of claims and benefits, and the governance of the PhilHealth itself.
He said he wanted to change the “income ceiling system” that is “not progressive.”
“So, what I want to do basically, is lift the income cap so that the rich will pay significantly more, while the average worker will pay significantly less,” Salceda said.
His bill, among other reforms, would appoint the finance secretary as chair of the PhilHealth board and make the Bureau of Treasury the fund manager of the investment reserve fund.
To prevent fraud, it will create a national health database of all PhilHealth claims and benefits following the one-patient, one-record principle.Disaster response
In addition to health-care reforms, the incoming administration also was asked to give attention to disaster response and mitigation by creating the Department of Disaster Resilience (DRR).
Mark Timbal, spokesperson for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council on Friday said he was hoping that the new Senate would speed up the passage of the bill creating the agency.
If passed into law, the DRR would oversee the preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of disaster and climate resilience programs of the government.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier this year said the DRR bill was unlikely to be approved because it needed to undergo “heavy interpellation” in the Senate.
According to the World Bank, the country is highly prone to disasters triggered by natural calamities. It cited estimates placing 60 percent of its land area and 74 percent of its population as exposed to numerous hazards, including floods, cyclones, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis and landslides.
An earlier wish list included a proposal by Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Agnes Devanadera to scrap the 12-percent value-added tax on generation charge.
Salceda had also asked that R&D (research and development) be given a higher budget for the country to be more competitive.
He also suggested that Marcos tap his “supermajority” in Congress to “enact smart, efficient tax and economic policies” to address paying the country’s huge debt. —WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH
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