Sin tax hike may fund universal healthcare law

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SENATOR Joseph Victor G. Ejercito is looking to increase so-called “sin taxes,” particularly on tobacco products, as a source of funding for the implementation of the universal healthcare (UHC) bill in the next years.

During the Kapihan sa Senado media forum on Thursday, Mr. Ejercito said the budget for the program’s first year of the implementation was sufficient but he is worried about funding in succeeding years as more Filipinos register under the program. The proposed measure seeks to provide automatic health insurance coverage to all Filipinos whether as direct or indirect contributors to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

“Maybe in the first year, it looks like the budget could cover it but I would think in the second or third year, it may be inadequate. That’s why I will still push for additional possible revenues, particularly this sin tax. Maybe we can raise it, particularly the tobacco tax,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

“I still feel that we have room to increase because we raised the sin tax in 2012. If we compare prices of tobacco products with the rest of Asia, ours is the lowest and the cheapest. As chairman of the committee on health, I would want to hit two birds with one stone so let’s do this as a revenue generating measure to raise (sin taxes),” he added.

Mr. Ejercito estimated the funding required for the program’s first year of implementation at P200 billion. PhilHealth has said 93% of Filipinos are already covered by health insurance.

The UHC bill was approved on third and final reading in the Senate on Wednesday while its counterpart measure in the House of Representatives was passed on Sept. 6, 2017.

Under the bill, the funds collected from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCor), the incremental sin tax collections from tobacco and alcohol products, and the sugar tax will be pooled for the universal healthcare program.

In a statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto, principal author of the bill, said the funds collected from various sources come on top of the regular annual appropriations for the Department of Health (DoH), PhilHealth as well as the mandates and programs under the UHC.

“The bill earmarks a raft of funding sources… It cannot be reduced. We are benchmarking the minimum funding requirements,” Mr. Recto said.

Several measures have been filed in Congress seeking to raise sin taxes, especially on tobacco. Senate Bill No. 1599, introduced by Senator Emmanuel D. Pacquiao, proposes to increase the unitary cigarette tax to P60. Meanwhile Senate Bill No. 1605, authored by Mr. Ejercito, sets the excise tax to P90. Both measures remain pending at committee level.

Following the passage of the health care bill in the Senate, Mr. Ejercito said both chambers of Congress plan to hold their bicameral conference committee discussions next week, after the filing period for certificates of candidacy (CoCs) for the 2019 midterm elections. — Camille A. Aguinaldo