My recent trip to Turkey, after having visited the country in the 1980s, made me realize how lucky the Turks are. For one, their tax rate is 18 percent. Education is free all the way to college. A universal healthcare program is available under its Universal Health Insurance system, which gives free access to medical treatment to all residents registered under the social security system. Countries with access to free health care services provide an opportunity for their citizenry to focus on their well-being, regardless of their status in life.
According to sources, even treatments for substance abuse are covered in Turkey. Likewise, choosing private health care would only cost 25 percent as government handles the rest. World Bank says that in 2012, Turkey’s healthcare access was at 98 percent. Without having to think about how to access medical treatments, citizens can concentrate on other aspects of their lives such as working on their careers or improving their education.
I thought about how the Philippines can achieve free healthcare for all. How do we approximate Turkey’s social services? Where do we source additional funds?
From religious institutions
Universal healthcare is vital in improving the lives of every citizen and must be considered high-priority.
With the recent tax reform programs of the government, infrastructure and other social services being priorities, we need additional sources of funding from taxing religious organizations to fund a universal healthcare program in the Philippines.
At present, churches, as well as lands and buildings that are being used for religious and charitable causes, are exempt from tax. While indeed religious organizations do not seek profit, there is no denying that the country needs more sources of income to fund worthwhile initiatives such as a universal healthcare system.
The additional tax which will be sourced from religious organizations will be a significant addition to creating a 100 percent universal healthcare system in the Philippines.
There have been proposals in the past to look into the taxation of religious organizations.
Some countries in Europe, such as Germany, Sweden and Finland, collect taxes from churches.
Studies in previous years show that there is a considerable amount to be gained if religious organizations pay their taxes on revenues they incur, such as in properties they own. If a religious organization sells a property, tax is not collected, but what if it is? How about the other services offered?
If ever the law will be amended where religious organizations will be required to pay taxes, the government may set up an ad hoc committee to administer the collection to ensure that the revenues incurred shall remain intact. All revenues from these taxes must also be channeled to a universal healthcare fund alone.
Religious institutions also own vast lands that remain idle. Partnerships with the private sector or government to utilize such lands for productive and economic benefits may be ensued with the a bigger chunk of tax collections derived from such unions channeled directly to the health fund. This will be in addition to the universal health care proposed by our Congress and collections from sin taxes.
The artificial intelligence technology on medical diagnosis may do away with the fees that are usually levied on the patients and other services performed by medical practitioners, such as surgeries and the likes, may be given tax breaks.
There is no doubt the religious organizations do help the government in providing charitable activities to their members and non-members as well. But with the current situation that we are in, it is also no doubt that we need all the help we can get from all walks of life. It might be high time that we also enjoin the religious organizations to see the opportunity in giving more by being equally taxed by the government.
Anyway, an initiative like universal healthcare access will benefit all, no matter what religion one practices. And the best part is, every part of society, religious organizations included, has given their share in instituting social reforms that will transcend generations to come.