Lawmakers have urged the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Universal Health Care (UHC) to immediately take a second look at the UHC Law, particularly its “restrictive” provisions that limit the country’s access to any breakthrough on medicines and drugs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Negros Occidental 3rd District Rep. Jose Francisco “Kiko” Benitez led the filing of House Resolution No. 1031, which calls on the joint congressional oversight panel to conduct an “immediate review and assessment” of Republic Act No. 11223, the UHC Law.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greater challenge our country has faced since the World War II, and as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in an international scale, it is imperative for Congress to review the UHC Law, rectify this landmark legislation, and make the availability of medicines for Filipinos grounded on sound and rational legislation,” read the three-page House Resolution No. 1031.
Benitez, along with 10 other lawmakers, said they sought the review of the UHC Law to determine if there is a need to amend its restrictive provisions, particularly Section 34, “so as not to cripple our public health systems especially now that we are not exempted from the unimaginable risk that COVID-19 poses.
Section 34 of RA 11223 mandates for a Health Technology Assessment (HTA) as a process of institutionalising a fair and transparent priority-setting mechanism for the development of policies and programs, regulation and the determination of a range of entitlements such as drugs, medicines, pharmaceutical products, and other devices, procedures and services, they said.
They explained that under the law, the conduct of HTA based on safety and effectiveness provides that each intervention must have undergone Phase IV clinical trial, and systematic review, and meta-analysis be readily available.
Benitez’s group specifically questioned the law’s post-marketing surveillance requirement (Phase IV) or the practice of monitoring the safety of a pharmaceutical drug or medical device after it has been released on the market.
“Phase IV clinical trials for drug development would mean that the whole world will have to use the drug first, carefully observe and analyse its effects over a period of several years, only then a country could use it. With this requirement of Phase IV under the UHC Law, the whole world already has access to a certain drug or vaccine and is using it, while the Philippines is watching and every time a product changes to respond to scientific data, our country will go back to zero,” they explained.
“This Section 34 of UHC Law contradicts the very spirit of UHC Law to health care accessibility as it connotes that Filipinos will have no recourse but to travel to other countries to have access to any breakthrough in medicines and drugs,” they said.
Under the law, HTA will be administered by the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC), an advisory body to the Secretary of the Department of Health (DOH) and is being tasked with providing recommendations for action to the DOH and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) with regards to medical technology in the country.
Joining Benitez in filing HR 1031 were Iloilo 1st District Rep. Janette Loreto-Garin, Bacolod lone District Rep. Greg Gasataya, Cebu City 1st District District Rep. Raul Del Mar, Abang Lingkod partylist Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano, Northern Samar Rep. Paul Daza, Negros Occidental 2nd District Rep. Leo Rafael Cueva, Negros Occidental 5th District Rep. Ma. Lourdes Arroyo, Cebu 7th District Rep. Peter John Calderon, Cebu 4th District Rep. Janice Salimbangon, and Negros Oriental 2nd District Rep. Manuel Sagarbarria.