Sin tax hike may fund uni­ver­sal health­care law

Business World - - The Economy - Camille A. Aguinaldo

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. —

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