FINANCE Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said discussions are currently ongoing to address funding for Universal Health Care (UHC) after its implementing agency floated the idea of possible delays in rolling out the program.

“We are currently discussing with PhilHealth and the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) how to address funding challenges and ensure continued implementation of UHC,” Mr. Dominguez said in a Viber message to reporters Wednesday.

Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) President Ricardo C. Morales on Tuesday proposed to legislators a UHC postponement as the health insurer is expected to be in deficit up to 2024.

“The government is committed to UHC particularly to ensure access of our most vulnerable groups to much needed health care especially during this difficult time,” Mr. Dominguez added.

Mr. Morales proposed a PhilHealth subsidy of P138 billion for 2021.

The proposed budget was higher than the P71.2-billion subsidy it received from the government this year, which was lower than the initial proposal of P153 billion. He said the current amount is not sufficient and will affect the health insurer’s capacity to cover all benefits.

He said PhilHealth is collecting less while having to make additional payouts due to the pandemic.

The government subsidizes government-owned and -controlled corporations to cover operational expenses not supported by their revenue.

Asked for comment, the DBM had not responded at deadline time.

The Department of Finance (DoF) last year backed hiking taxes on “sin” products to plug the funding gap for UHC which will require some P257 billion in the first year of implementation.

The bulk of funding for UHC will be sourced from the general appropriations act and tax collections from “sin” products such as tobacco and vaping products.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed on Jan. 22 the new “sin” tax law or Republic Act No. 11467 which was expected to yield P17 billion in fresh revenue in the first year of effectivity.

However, sin tax collections have been plummeting recently due to the lockdown and liquor bans imposed in some parts of the country.

In the year to date, collections from “sin” products are down 39% from a year earlier at P63 billion. — Beatrice M. Laforga