DOF warns of delays, cuts in UHC benefits

MANILA The Department of Finance on Thursday warned of possible delays or cuts in the delivery of services and benefits provided under the Universal Health Care (UHC) law after the House of Representatives approved a measure imposing excise tax rates lower than the proposal of the DOF and the Department of Health.

On Wednesday, the House approved on second reading House Bill No. 1026 which seeks to impose higher tax rates on alcohol, heated tobacco, and vapor products.

Under the House version, the projected revenues would reach PHP15.6 billion by 2020, just half of the PHP 33.3 billion that the DOF wants.

The House version is also projected to gain a revenue of PHP110.3 billion from 2020 to 2024, much lower than PHP249 billion projected revenues under the DOF-DOH proposal in the same period.

In a press conference, Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua said the lower taxes would cut down the benefits intended under the UHC.

The consequence of not raising is that may mga hindi makakatanggap ng benepisyo (there would be those who won't get their benefits) immediately. Kasi baka may delay or lahat ay hindi makakatanggap ng 100 percent, baka 90 percent lamang ng mga pinangako ng(Because of the delay, not everyone will get 100 percent, maybe 90 percent only of the benefits from the) Universal Health Care, he said.

The DOF official said they will be making a push in the Senate to further raise the taxes on alcohol product, expressing optimism that the Chamber would be more open in accepting the DOF-DOH version.

Kaya pagpunta namin sa (That's why when we go to the) Senate, we will present the options and what will happen if we do not raise it further. So we will present the case. Hopefully, the Senate will have more openness to the higher rate, Chua said.

In the last Congress, Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao adopted the DOF and DOH version. And we will ask the same senator and other senators possibly to adopt or file so that we have a starting point before presenting, he added.

House defends quick approval

Despite the lower excise tax rates, the chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means defended the House's quick approval of HB 1026.

In the same press conference, Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda said in invoking Rule 10 Section 48, the House effectively hastened the approval process of whatever final version the measure may take.

The provision states that: In case of bills or resolutions that are identified as priority measures of the House, which were previously filed in the immediately preceding Congress and have already been approved on 3rd reading, the same may be disposed of as matters already reported upon the approval of majority of the Members of the committee present, there being a quorum.

If you (DOF) wanted a higher rate then let's go to the entire process again. Start from the start. Start from zero, Salceda said.

He pointed out that in that scenario, the bill would start at the committee level, with all the economic managers, health and other advocates, as well as other stakeholders, including congressmen, making their respective cases again.

So it would be far better to push it out already to the Senate and get the process starting. I think the time is more important, Salceda said.

He pointed out that a higher excise tax rate is very possible in the bicameral conference committee.

As chair of the Ways and Means Committee, he said he is bound by duty to defend the House version.

I am bound by (duty) but certainly, when I come back to the House, if the bicam comes up with a higher take then I have to justify it to the members and the leadership of the House, he said.

It happens. Ilan beses na ba nangyari yan? (How many times does it happen?) All the time daw the House approves lower, the Senate approves higher and they ended up something in the middle which is usually higher than the House, Salceda said. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency

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