Senator Poe pushes for ‘special risk allowance’ for COVID-19 frontliners

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Senator  Grace Poe on Tuesday pushed for the provision of a “special risk allowance” for all public healthcare frontliners due to the  coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

During interpelation over Senate Bill No. 1418, Poe pressed for allocating a budget where such extra allowance can be drawn.

Poe stressed that doctors, nurses and other health workers deserve more than the hazard pay that the law mandates given the dangers they were facing.

“While the law states that they shall receive a hazard pay, we propose that a special risk allowance be added to this pay because our health workers are confronted with a different kind of hazard this time, which can be potentially fatal when they are not able to take the necessary safety precautions,” she said.

Fighting COVID-19 involves serious risks so frontliners must be properly incentivized for their work and given adequate compensation, she said.

Under the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers, the hazard allowance of health workers with salary grade 19 and below is equivalent to at least 25 percent of their monthly basic pay, and 5 percent for those with salary grade 20 and above.

The Department of Health (DOH) has released P378 million for this purpose.

Poe suggested that if the DOH has no discretionary fund to tap for the health workers’ special risk allowance, the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) should be able to identify which funds in the national budget can be used for the additional compensation.

“It doesn’t necessarily need to match the amount of their actual hazard pay, just extra compensation to cover for their other needs,” Poe said.

For his part, Senator Sonny Angara welcomed the grant of hazard pay and a special risk allowance to public health workers who continuously serve the nation at this critical time, but emphasized that volunteers should also be included.

Administrative Order No. 26, which was issued last Monday, authorizes the grant of hazard pay to government personnel and enumerates the coverage and conditions.

Several hours later, Congress approved the “Bayanihan to Heal as One”  bill, that grants President Duterte additional powers to address the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and provides a package of financial aid to health workers and indigent families.

Angara urged the DOH to clarify if the volunteers will be covered by AO No. 26 and the “Bayanihan to Heal as One”  bill, which is en route to the President for signing.

“As the term ‘hazard pay’ implies, what they are doing is extremely hazardous to their health. They are the individuals carrying the most risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, but in spite of the dangers, both to their lives and the lives of their families, they are responding to the call for help from the government,” Angara said.

“Just because they are volunteers doesn’t mean that they should be working for free. Under the current circumstances, there is no dispute that they should be compensated just like everybody else in the health sector,” he added.

The DOH and its hospitals have been asking for volunteers to help in various tasks including contact tracing.

Under Section 21 of Republic Act 7305 or the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers, a hazard allowance is granted to public health workers who are required to work in areas declared under a state of calamity or emergency, “for the duration thereof.”

Based on the implementing rules and regulations of the law, all public health workers are “eligible to receive hazard pay when the nature of their work exposes them to high-risk/low-risk hazards for at least 50 percent of their working hours as determined and approved by the Secretary of Health or his authorized representatives.”

For public health workers exposed to high-risk hazards, they are entitled to receive a hazard pay not exceeding five percent higher than what is prescribed under the law.

Under AO No. 26, the COVID-19 hazard pay was pegged at P500, multiplied by the number of days physically reporting for work during the quarantine period.

Under the final version of the Bayanihan to Heal as One bill, a special risk allowance will be provided to public health workers, on top of the hazard pay.

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) will shoulder the medical expenses of all public and private health workers who are exposed to the COVID-19 virus.

In the event that they contract “severe” COVID-19 in the performance of their duties, the public and private health workers will also receive P100,000 each.

In case of death due to COVID-19, the family of the public or private health worker will receive a P1 million assistance. This will have a retroactive effect.

Meanwhile, Poe also made sure that the bill prioritized the procurement of personal protective equipment, testing kits, and other medical devices such as mechanical ventilators, vaccines once available and other drugs proven effective to treat COVID-19 in other countries.

“This will be very helpful because once a vaccine has been discovered and proven to be effective or other drugs found to be potent against the disease, we will be able to act fast and avail of that as quickly as possible,” she said./Stacy Ang

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