By JOHN CARLO M. CAHINHINAN
MANILA – Senator Grace Poe said doctors render free services to people in need deserve not only recognition and also incentives.
Poe recently filed Senate Bill No. 1715 or Physician Pro Bono Care Act—a measure that seeks to grant tax incentives to the gross income of “physicians rendering free services to indigent patients.”
According to Poe, granting these doctors tax incentives is “a way of giving back for their selflessness, commitment and expertise.”
Poe said the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the country’s healthcare system and highlighted the importance of having adequate number of doctors in protecting and advancing public health.
The pandemic also widened the gap to quality healthcare access among the poor and the marginalized.
“Truthful to their oath, doctors reduce or even forgo their fees based on patients’ circumstances. But we recognize that they also have a need to sustain their profession and that’s where tax incentives could be most helpful,” Poe stressed.
In pushing for her proposal, Poe underscored the constitutional right of Filipinos to have access to health services, and for the government to endeavor to provide free medical care to the poor.
Poe noted that in 2019, the Philippines had a woeful doctor-to-patient ratio of 1:33,000—far from the 1:6,600 global average.
“Worse, six out of 10 Filipinos die without seeing a doctor,” she added.
Under SB 1715, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) are tasked to evaluate the pro bono services rendered by the physicians, considering the number of hours and the nature of treatment involved.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), in consultation with the DOH and the PMA, will promulgate the rules and regulations for the implementation of the measure.
“If doctors could write off their pro bono work on their taxes, we would see more charity care. This is a win-win situation for patients and doctors,” she said.
Poe explained that while a favorable tax incentive would result in less tax revenue, generating more free physicians’ services could lead to long-term savings for the government’s health insurance program, which would offset potential revenue losses.