THE Department of Health (DOH) on Sunday reported that over P15.7 billion worth of benefits for health-care workers (HCWs) has been disbursed already as of November 26, 2021.
“The Department is committed to recognizing the important contribution of our healthcare workers in the fight against Covid-19; hence, we aim to provide them with the compensation and benefits they deserve as stated in Republic Act 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act,” said Undersecretary of Health Leopoldo Vega, the DOH’s Administration and Financial Management Head, referring to the disbursement of the P15,719,085,923 worth of benefits for HCWs.
Vega added that they continuously coordinate with local government units to fast-track the disbursement of the remaining SRA funds to eligible HCWs for the period of December 20, 2020 to June 30, 2020.
The disbursed amount is “based on the latest, reconciled figures reflected in the Statement of Allotment, Obligation and Balances (SAOB) and is part of the P16,229,088,025.2 total amount disbursed as updated last November 23, 2021, of which the difference is for reconciliation.”
The DOH said P7,915,760,434 in Special Risk Allowance (SRA) of 486,585 HCWs has been disbursed, covering the period December 20, 2020 to June 30, 2021.
Meanwhile, P6,555,957,185 was disbursed as SRA and active hazard duty pay (AHDP) last year for 315,652 and 390,662 HCWs respectively.
Additionally, meals, accommodation, and transportation (MAT) benefits worth P1,231,098,680 have been received by 103,413 healthcare workers.
The DOH added that pending requests for additional SRA funds for Batch 5 and Batch 6 shall be evaluated by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) once releases for the previous batches have been fully disbursed.
Meanwhile, the DOH clarified that under Bayanihan 2, the provision of MAT benefits was for the convenience of healthcare workers, and to protect their families who are at risk of contracting Covid-19 as they travel from their homes to health facilities.
“MAT benefits for healthcare workers were to be provided as actual transportation arrangements, accommodation, and meals in order to lessen their burden from traveling from their homes to work and vice versa. We also wanted to keep their families safe, to prevent healthcare workers from potentially infecting their family members at home by providing MAT,” explained Vega.
The DOH stressed that these benefits were originally intended to be provided in-kind or as actual services. Health facilities that were not able to disburse these amounts for such purpose have opted to return unspent funds to the DOH before the year ended, to prevent reversion of funds to the Treasury.
These funds, the DOH added, in turn, were used by them to support other requirements for the pandemic response.
Recognizing that a number of healthcare workers have not been able to receive the MAT benefits, the DOH assured that it is continuously working with DBM and the Office of the President to secure funding and appropriate authority to provide the MAT retroactively to those who have yet to receive it.
Proposed benefits for HCWs
The DOH further explained that healthcare worker benefits have certain limitations as to their scope and coverage period.
In the case of the AHDP, it can no longer be granted beyond December 19, 2020.
On the other hand, the grant of SRA is only until June 30, 2021.
Moreover, under Bayanihan 2 entitlement to SRA has been limited to those directly catering or exposed to Covid-19 patients, as clarified by the Department of Justice; thus the said benefit cannot be provided to all healthcare workers.
Given these limitations, the DOH has supported ongoing legislative initiatives for the continued provision of benefits for healthcare workers.
The DOH is also improving and streamlining its processes to ensure that benefits are equitably and promptly distributed.
“Recognizing these challenges, the DOH supports the passage of Senate Bill 2421, otherwise known as ‘An Act Granting Continuing Covid-19 Benefits to Public and Private Health Workers during the Period of the Covid-19 Pandemic, Providing Funds thereof, and for other purposes.’ The bill grants a unified healthcare worker benefit to all private and public health workers based on risk categorization in the spirit of equity” Vega said.