PhilHealth projects P17-B loss this year

THE Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) is expecting to book a P17-billion loss this year with the deferment of the contribution rate hike and higher expenses due to coronavirus-related programs and benefits. Nerissa R. Santiago, PhilHealth acting executive vice president and chief operating office, told a Senate Health committee hearing Tuesday that without the increase in collection from members, the expected income for the year is P162 billion, including government subsidy and other sources of income. Benefit expenses, on the other hand, would be P179 billion, including P171.9 billion for a consultation program for 25% of the population and coronavirus benefits. “Net income or loss for 2021 would be about P17 billion as a result of a lower collections and higher benefit expense,” she said. Prior to the pandemic, the  projected collection for 2021 was P103 billion. This was dropped to P83 billion due to the decrease in the number of direct contributors and deferment of the 3.5% scheduled increase. “This will lower the reserve fund of about P143.5 billion coming from P160.6 billion from 2020,” she added. Ms. Santiago also said PhilHealth’s reserve fund is projected to decrease to P83.7 billion in 2022 due to the estimated net loss of about P60 billion. National Treasurer Rosalia V. de Leon said the implication of the projected net loss for 2021 is a shortening “of the fund life of PhilHealth by six months from August 2028 to February 2028.” The Senate health and demography committee is hearing the bills seeking to grant the President the power to suspend increases in PhilHealth contributions due to the effects of the pandemic. The House of Representatives early this month approved on third and final reading a similar bill. Under Republic Act No. 11223 of the Universal Health Care Act, the monthly premium rate contribution would increase to 3.5% in 2021 from 3% in 2020

Meanwhile, PhilHealth President Dante A. Gierran said the state-run insurance firm supports the proposal to grant the President the power to defer scheduled contribution increase during national emergencies “when public interest so requires.” “Provided that the subsequent scheduled increases in the premium contribution shall be adjusted to the years following the lifting of the suspension,” he said, adding that this is in order to support the insurance program. Mr. Gierran also reported that 95% of the P14.9 billion funds released to healthcare institutions that were under investigation have been liquidated. “The IRM (interim reimbursement mechanism) now is already 95% liquidated,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. “We would like to assure… that we will liquidate this fully in due time. Hopefully before the end of March of this year,” he said. Complaints were filed against top PhilHealth officials over the alleged anomalies in the IRM program. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Labor groups slam ‘no vaccination, no work’ policy by some companies

LABOR groups on Tuesday called on the government to prohibit the “no vaccination, no work” policy that has been adopted by some employers, saying such rule is “discriminatory and coercive.” The Associated Labor Unions (ALU), in a statement, said it has received complaints and reports from workers who were advised by their management to participate in the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination sponsored by companies. Other unions also reported that there are workers who will not be allowed to resume duties without a vaccination certificate. “Employers also forewarned their employees with reassignment and relocation to other branches if they would not participate in the company-sponsored immunization program. Others would be put on furlough or floating status until they are injected with the vaccine,” ALU said. The coalition urged the Department of Labor and Employment to intervene in the matter. The Philippines received its first set of COVID-19 vaccines last Sunday consisting of 600,000 doses of the Sinovac Biotech Ltd. brand donated by the Chinese government. Private firms, through a tripartite agreement that involves the government, have been allowed to place orders for approved COVID-19 vaccines. The government maintains a policy that vaccination is not mandatory. — Gillian M. Cortez

Palace says fewer holidays this year needed to recover ‘lost time’

THE proclamation issued last week on fewer non-working days this year is intended to recover “lost time” from the stringent lockdowns imposed across the country since last year, according to the presidential palace. President Rodrigo R. Duterte last week declared three special holidays — November 2 (All Souls’ Day), December 24 (Christmas Eve), and December 31 (Last Day of the Year) — as “special working days” supposedly to boost economic productivity. Presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said the President made the order upon the recommendation of the government’s economic planners. “We have been on holiday for almost a year because of COVID-19. Let us allow recovery for lost time,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino during a televised press briefing. Mr. Roque defended the policy after labor groups and Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel urged the Palace to reconsider its declaration, citing potential impacts on Filipino workers. For daily minimum wage earners in the National Capital Region (NCR), the order amounts to a pay cut on Dec. 31 of about P161, InfrawatchPH convenor Terry L. Ridon earlier told BusinessWorld. “Inclusive of the two other special working days, the pay cut amounts to about P483, equivalent to 99% of NCR’s minimum wage,” he said. Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel said the policy might only “disincentive and demoralize workers from reporting for duty, thus lowering economic productivity instead of increasing it.” Mr. Roque said despite the official proclamation, “nothing is etched in stone,” and this might still change. “Let’s see what will happen,” the spokesman said in Filipino. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

20 new prosecutors appointed

JUSTICE Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra has released a list of 20 newly-appointed prosecutors of the Philippines to the Department of Justice–National Prosecution Service, mostly assigned outside in regional offices. Of the 20, eight are assistant city prosecutors assigned to Baguio, Biñan, Cagayan De Oro (2), Kidapawan City (2), Lapu-Lapu, and Mandaluyong. Five are associate city prosecutors assigned to Legazpi, Tagaytay, Lucena, Baguio, and San Fernando.

Another five are assistant provincial prosecutors assigned to Cavite, Cagayan, Leyte (2), and Palawan. The remaining two are associate provincial prosecutors assigned to Batanes and Masbate. Mr. Guevarra further said there are “another 20 (new prosecutors) more or less coming up.” A directory of the country’s prosecutors are available on at the Department of Justice website, — Bianca Angelica D. Añago