The House of Representatives in the Philippines has approved on second reading a bill that empowers President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to suspend the increase in premium rates for “direct contributors” of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

The bill seeks to amend the Universal Health Care Act, which will increase the rate of contributions this year from 4% to 4.5%, or from the minimum monthly premium of PHP400 to PHP450. The rate will further increase to 5% starting in 2025.

The authors of the bill 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.”

They noted that imposing a higher premium on Filipinos in the current conditions where most of them are grappling with the pandemic will definitely enforce a new round of financial burden to its members.

Under the bill, 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.

They said that 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 bill’s authors said that 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 is suspended. “Those earning more will naturally save more,” they added.

It should be noted that Republic Act 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 bill is expected to provide much-needed relief to millions of government and private sector workers, professionals, self-employed, and other PhilHealth contributors who are still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. –