Dominguez cool to proposal for DOF to chair graft-ridden PhilHealth
MANILA, Philippines — Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III is cool to the proposal of Senate President Tito Sotto that the head of the Department of Finance (DOF) — which oversees the country’s fiscal health — should also chair the board of the graft-ridden Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
“If it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” Dominguez replied when asked on Thursday to comment on Sotto’s suggestion, quoting a Biblical passage when Jesus Christ was praying at the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion.
Sotto this week filed a bill aimed at replacing the Department of Health (DOH) Secretary as PhilHealth chair with the DOF chief instead.
At present, the DOF Secretary sits on the insurer’s board, while also overseeing state-run firms like PhilHealth as Finance chief.
Early this month, Dominguez said the DOF since late last year was working to ensure that PhilHealth can implement the universal health care program.
“The DOF team, composed of an Undersecretary, the National Treasurer, and a Deputy Commissioner of the Insurance Commission (IC), has been working closely with PhilHealth since October of 2019 to achieve the President’s goal of providing universal health care,” Dominguez said.
“While funding is a key component, improvements in their financial planning and control, as well as actuarial systems, are fundamental to the achievement of this goal. These will help plug all leakages so as to allow the funds from members’ premiums and the taxpayers to be utilized properly,” Dominguez added.
“We are taking these issues in PhilHealth very seriously, and this administration fully intends to put PhilHealth on a solid financial footing that will allow us to fully implement the Universal Health Care Act,” according to Dominguez.
In a speech during the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) virtual annual meeting also on Thursday, Dominguez urged the Manila-based multilateral lender to provide financing for member-countries’ future purchases of COVID-19 vaccines.
“With a number of ongoing developments of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, we encourage the ADB to take on a lead role in ensuring the accessibility of these treatments to those who need it most. We suggest that the ADB take the initiative to convene a working group with the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and other multilateral bodies to assist developing member-countries in accessing these vaccines,” Dominguez said.
“The working group could establish a common information portal that will provide member-countries with updates on COVID-19 vaccine development. A coordinated approach to the procurement of vaccines and mobilization of financing for this purpose will greatly help developing countries restore the vitality of their economies,” Dominguez added.
Specifically, Dominguez urged the ADB to “help package financial assistance to help the member-countries provide vaccines to their most impoverished and vulnerable populations.”
“Funding support may be provided to private firms willing to establish vaccine production facilities in the member-countries,” according to Dominguez.
In response, ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa told over 40 finance and health ministers belonging to the ADB’s member-states that the lender remains committed to aid in the fight against COVID-19 as well as the implementation of universal health care programs across the Asia-Pacific region.
“As we help countries address the pandemic, we should not lose sight of the challenges of the rising burden of non-communicable diseases, worsening income inequality, changing demography, and deteriorating fiscal sustainability. We have to build health systems where people from all walks of life, including the elderly, the poor and the vulnerable, can access health services at an affordable cost while maintaining these health systems’ financial sustainability — even in aging societies that many countries in Asia and the Pacific are heading toward. Our collective experience of the fight against the pandemic speaks volumes about why we must also ensure that universal health care is financially sustainable and inclusive to all,” Asakawa said.
Dominguez said tax reform in the Philippines had raised incremental revenues so the Universal Health Care Law signed by President Duterte last year can be fully implemented.
“We were able to leverage excise tax collections from so-called ‘sin products’ to fund our universal health care program. We are the only administration in Philippine history to have increased sin taxes three times in the last four years. Tax increases on cigarettes, alcohol, and electronic nicotine devices shielded us from the worst of the pandemic’s impacts on our revenue collection,” Dominguez said.
“Continuous improvements in our public health system are crucial to building the confidence of our people and our businesses to operate in the new economy. We remain committed to bolstering our public health infrastructure to fight this pandemic and prepare for future public health emergencies,” Dominguez added.
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