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Low utilization blamed for health budget cuts

THE Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said on Wednesday that low cash utilization rates led to the reduction of 2023 funding for some programs run by the Department of Health (DoH), adding that some of them were also not at a stage where they were implementable soon, bumping them down the budget priority list.

“First, allow us to note that the National Government is in a tight fiscal position. Thus, the DBM recognizes the need to carefully prioritize programs and projects based on available budget, and uphold sound fiscal management,” the DBM said in a statement.

“When DBM allocates budget, it also takes into consideration the utilization rate of the agency. The decrease in the provision for Public Health Management was due to its low utilization rate,” it added, noting its disbursement rate of only 76.7% last year.

On Tuesday, ACT Teachers Party-list Representative Francisca L. Castro expressed concern over cuts in the budgets for epidemiology and surveillance, health regulation, public health and health emergency management.

“Without funding for the Epidemiology and Surveillance Program for the regions, how can we ensure the health and safety of our people? These (budget cuts) are alarming,” Ms. Castro said in a statement, noting how as much as 98.73% was slashed from the funding for regions.

“The National Expenditure Program (NEP) budget level for the Epidemiology and Surveillance Program for fiscal year 2023 pertains to budget proposal(s) which were substantiated with details by the DoH. Other items proposed for these programs were not supported with details and hence, had been considered as not yet ready for implementation,” the DBM said in explaining why the program’s budget decreased by P115 million.

Ms. Castro also flagged a P4.17 billion reduction in the budget for the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases, which the DBM said was due to the lower requirement for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requested by the DoH.

According to the DoH, since PPE procurement is now the responsibility of individual hospitals, it only sought P1.020 billion for 2023, against P5.304 billion in 2022.

The budget proposed for the Health Emergency Program was P752.341 million, down P61.484 million from 2022.

The responsibility of paying vaccinators was also transferred to local government units, prompting the DBM to provide no allocation for COVID-19 Human Resource for Health Emergency Hiring, resulting in a P4.33-billion budget reduction.

“On the zero provision for procurement of COVID-19 vaccine boosters, it is noted that a standby fund amounting to P22 billion has been provided for vaccines under unprogrammed appropriations,” the DBM said.

Ms. Castro also flagged a 13.22% decrease in the allocation for the Health Regulatory Program, which the DBM said was due to a P4.7 million congressional adjustment in this year that was not considered for the proposed 2023 budget.

“Note that despite the tight fiscal position of the National Government, the health sector received a 10.4% budget increase at P296.3 billion in the fiscal year 2023 NEP. This is inclusive of the budgets of the DoH and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth),” the DBM said.

ALLOWANCES FOR PANDEMIC FRONTLINERS
Meanwhile, the DBM said it is still awaiting the fulfillment of documentary requirements by the DoH before it can release allowances for pandemic frontliners.

“The DBM is yet to receive the DoH’s request for One COVID Assistance (OCA) or health emergency allowance covering January to June 2022,” DBM Undersecretary Goddes Hope O. Libiran said in a Viber message, noting that the allowances amount to P11 billion.

With regard to the P63-billion OCA that remains unpaid from previous years, Ms. Libiran also confirmed that the DBM still has not received the necessary documents from the DoH.

“Essentially, we asked them to substantiate their request by sending us the budget breakdown, segregation, actual names of claimants, and other relevant documents for us to clearly determine the universe of eligible beneficiaries,” the DBM said in a statement last week.

However, “the DoH complied with their commitment to submit requested document for special risk allowances (P1.041 billion) to cover an additional 55,211 eligible public and private healthcare workers from Sept. 15, 2020 to June 30, 2021,” Ms. Libiran said. — Diego Gabriel C. Robles

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