Hontiveros bats for higher share for health services, COVID-19 response in 2021 budget

“In the face of the largest health crisis of our time, tila anemic ang budget natin para sa kalusugan.”

This was the remark of Senator Risa Hontiveros as she urged the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) to allocate higher shares for health services in the proposed 2021 National Budget to aid the country’s novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) response.

During the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) hearing, Hontiveros said that next year’s budget is vital sustain a long and continuous pandemic response.

“The Department of Health ranks only fifth in budget prioritization behind Department of Works and Highways, Department of Interior and Local Government, and Department of National Defense.” she said.

“I would just like to point out. Hindi pwedeng pang-lima lang ang health sector among the departments. Nasa gitna tayo ng pandemya and it should be expected that we will be looking at a more health-heavy, COVID-and recession-responsive budget. Hindi ito dapat tinitipid. Hindi dapat tinitipid ang kalusugan at buhay ng Pilipino.”

According to Hontiveros, this period is an ’ultimate litmus test’ of the Universal Health Care Law, and while the Department of Health prioritizes UHC implementation and COVID-19 response in its expenditures, the 2021 budget is not in any way aligned with the UHC.

“HIndi sapat ang budget natin para mapalakas ang LGU capacities, health system capacities, health promotion at pati na ang allocation para sa mga medical frontliners and health workers natin. Hindi ba malinaw na ito ang prayoridad dapat natin?”

Likewise, she said that while additional funds are allotted to address the pandemic, these amounts remain inadequate to successfully solve the health crisis the country is facing.

She specifically cited the scant and unreasonable budget for surveillance and epidemiology as well as the need to prepare to allocate for vaccination, and ensure that the projection of costs will be sufficient from importation to distribution.

“Hindi pwedeng katiting lang ang budget para sa surveillance at solidarity trial lang ang budget allocation sa COVID-19 vaccine. Given that a successful vaccine might be discovered next year, the government should at least consider allocating more for a free mass vaccination,” she said.

The Senator also stated that economic reopening and employment recovery will be uncertain and unlikely in 2021 and 2022 if provisions for infection control are lacking.

With the unemployment rate of 10%, a more comprehensive and expanded health insurance coverage according to Hontiveros should be put in place to cover at least 4.6 million Filipinos who lost their jobs and income source.

That is equivalent to P16.56B of funds to be infused to the state-insurer, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

“Ngayong panahon ng krisis dapat nasasandalan at napapakinabangan ng taumbayan ang PhilHealth, lalo na kung sila ay walang pambayad sa gamutan. Hindi para maging gatasan lang ng mga kurakot. We should pump in more funds to ensure universal health coverage amid the pandemic, even as we rid PhilHealth of corruption, mismanagement and other irregularities,” she said.

“We should get our priorities straight. Buhay at kapakanan ng bawat Pilipino ang dapat mauna,” she concluded.