In 2nd defeat of the day for the government, Senate approves change in state-owned health plan

BRASÍLIA – After rejecting a provisional measure of the labor package, the Senate imposed the second defeat of the day on the government and revoked a proposal that dismantles the rules that established limits on the expenses of state-owned companies with health plans for employees. The proposal could make the privatization of Correios, one of the priorities of the Jair Bolsonaro government’s agenda, unfeasible.

The text, already approved by the Chamber, was approved by the senators in a symbolic vote and is now going to promulgation – that is, it cannot be vetoed by President Jair Bolsonaro. Now it will be made into law.

In practice, the project revokes a rule created in the government of former president Michel Temer and which was fundamental to reversing a trajectory of billionaire losses of the Correios itself, when the company was on its way to becoming a dependent state-owned company – that is, it needs resources of the Budget to support salaries and current expenses.

Text was approved today by the senators in a symbolic vote and cannot be vetoed.

Text was approved today by the senators in a symbolic vote and cannot be vetoed.

Photo: Jefferson Rudy/Agência Senate – 1/9/2021 / Estadão

The text overturns the validity of resolution 23 of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Corporate Governance and Administration of Equity Interests of the Union (CGPAR), edited in January 2018.

Before the resolution was issued, it was common for state-owned companies to pay more than 90% of the costs, without any co-participation – today, the limit is 50%. Several companies accepted that employees include fathers, mothers and children as dependents without any age limit. Now, the inclusion of dependents was limited to spouses and children up to 24 years old – as long as they were attending higher education.

The progress of the proposal, originally presented in 2018, caught the attention of the economic team still in the Chamber, where it was approved in July. Written by the opposition deputy Erika Kokay (PT-DF) and reported by Sóstenes Cavalcante (DEM-RJ), a member of the Evangelical caucus, the text had 365 votes in favor and only 39 against, a support so expressive that it would even be sufficient for approval of an amendment to the Constitution as the one that resumed the printed vote – and which was defeated in the House.

In the Senate, the proposal was reported by senator Romário (PL-RJ) who, like Kokay, considered the rule unconstitutional and claims that it violates workers’ acquired rights related to health plans funded by state-owned companies. “The workers of the state-owned companies will once again have the opportunity to have a better quality of life. I am sure that from that moment on, people will live more peacefully,” he said.

In his report, senator Romário stated that the resolution exceeds the limits of the law. The government, in turn, sent the senators a technical note showing that state-owned companies, even with the resolution in effect, paid, last year, R$ 1,087 per month per health plan holder (employees and retirees). The Executive spent BRL 118.14 per server per month, and the Unified Health System (SUS), in turn, BRL 59.10 per Brazilian citizen – including spending on covid-19. Also according to the document, the cost of suspending the resolution would be R$ 1.49 billion per year for the seven largest state-owned companies – BNDES, Petrobras, Correios, Caixa, Banco do Brasil, Serpro and Eletrobras.

The government leader, Fernando Bezerra Coelho (MDB-PE), managed to withdraw the process from the agenda last week, but the text returned to the agenda today. He defended the resolution and said that its repeal will bring financial repercussions for the state-owned companies and, possibly, the need for contributions from the Union. The leader said, however, that the government would accept the result of the vote.

The government tried to articulate a defeat to the text behind the scenes, in an attempt to avoid creating resistance to other important proposals for the economic agenda, such as the Postal privatization project itself. This strategy, however, has not brought results.

The proposal for privatization of Correios, for example, will not go directly to the plenary and will go through the Committee on Economic Affairs (CAE). So far there is no rapporteur and, according to the president of CAE, Otto Alencar (PSD-BA), even those in favor of the text do not want to report it. Alencar also refused to hand over the report to Bezerra Coelho and the government leader in Congress, Eduardo Gomes (MDB-TO).

The leader of Podemos, Álvaro Dias (PR), was one of the senators who supported the resolution’s overthrow. He considers the rule unconstitutional and claims that it violates workers’ acquired rights, as it changes the conditions of the employment contract.

Health postcard

O Health postcard, of the postal workers, was one of the greatest examples of what the government considered, at the time, abuses and privileges. The company paid almost 94.4% of the benefit until 2017, while employees covered only 5.6% of the expenses. There was no tuition charge, and employees could even include their parents as dependents.

Before the resolution, Correios estimated a deficit on its balance sheet of around R$ 3.92 billion. With the changes, the actuarial liability of Correios related to expenses with health plans of its employees, which reached BRL 5.92 billion in 2015, was reduced to BRL 3.92 billion in 2018 and to BRL 270 million in 2020.

For the economic team, the resolution ended up with privileges and its revocation could make the privatization of Correios unfeasible – scheduled to take place between March and April 2022. The estimate is that its overthrow will allow the return of the previous rule and will bring a cost of R$ 3.2 billion in the company’s balance sheet, whose market value was estimated at R$ 950 million in privatization studies. Until 2016, equity was negative and, in 2019, it was estimated at R$100 million.

The deadline for complying with the resolution is January 2022, but several state-owned companies have not yet adapted their spending. One of them is the BNDES, which pays R$3,000 per month in health care for employees with an average salary of R$32 thousand, without monthly fees or co-participation.