MANILA — The Department of Budget and Management slashed the COVID-19 response fund of the Department of Health for 2023 by over P71 billion — one of many cuts made by the agency in health-related spending next year.
"For the 2023 budget we have proposed P95 billion for the COVID-19 response and the approved for the NEP 2023 was just P24.4 billion. Looking at how we are having right now going through this declining number of cases, we think that this would be sufficient based on the response that we're having right now but if we are going to prepare to procure the new generation of vaccines we might be needing additional funds," DOH Officer-In-Charge Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said during the budget briefing of her agency before the House Appropriations Committee.
Vergeire also said that funding for the prevention and control of communicable diseases was cut.
"If you look at the comparison of the 2022 Budget vis a vis the 29023. Proposed budget there is a reduction of 71.21%. Ang ibig po sabihin nito yung pondo sa communicable diseases kung saan kasama ang COVID, TB, HIV, leptospirosis, monkeypox, Japanese encephalitis at marami pa po iba ay tinapyasan ng 4.17 billion, " Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said.
"Yes we confirm that. This is because we are not going to procure PPEs and GEnexpert catridges anymore for 2023 because we have enough stocks to last." Vergeire said.
There's also insufficient funds for the COVID-19 benefits of health care workers. As it is, government still owes health care workers back pay for previous years' COVID-19 benefits.
"For SRA meron po tayong around 492,000 health care workers na nabigyan na po natin nitong allowance SRA fully disbursed from September 2020 to June 2021. Ngayon meron pa ho tayong 56,000 ongoing disbursement for health care workers. From December 2020 to June 30 2021 po ang kailangan. This is ongoing disbursement and 92% na po ang disbursed. Konti na lang po pinupruseso natin," Vergeire said.
Vergeire also said that the DBM also cut the budget for DOH hospitals.
'"We have proposed po P32.8 billion for our MOOE for our regional hospitals for DOH and there is this separate for the operations of DOH hospitals in Metro Manila where we have proposed additional P10 billion. But we were only approved P13.2 billion for our DOH regional hospitals and we were only approved P4.9 billion for our DOH Metro Manila hospitals," she said.
The DOH chief also said that DBM also reverted the budget for assistance to indigents from their original P4.93 billion proposal to the 2022 level of 4.6B. Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel expects this to affect about 27,000 patients.
The DOH also confirmed that funds were also cut for government-owned and controlled corporation hospitals.
Director Leonita P. Gorgolon of the Health Facilities Enhancement Program said they have locally funded projects for these hospitals covering infrastructure and equipment but hospitals as a whole saw their budget cut.
Even funding for cancer patients was not spared, as cancer assistance was cut from the budget entirely. Vergeire, meanwhile, admitted the funding for this year was not used yet.
She also said there are P2 billion for barangay health stations and that there are funds for the implementation of the reproductive health law for 3 million women.
Overall, the DOH chief explained that the DOH got a little more in the budget this year, which is around P301 billion.
"Out of this P301 billion, majority or 65% is allocated to the DOH Office of the Secretary amounting to P196 billion. The rest of the budget is allocated to our DOH attached agencies and corporations which comprises 35% of the DOH budget. Of this amount, P100 billion or 33% is allocated for PhilHealth Premium subsidies for indirect contributors and the benefit package improvement," Vergeire said.
However, Vergeire said the budget level of most of their attached agencies and corporations have decreased in the 2023 National Expenditure Program.