By Analou De Vera
Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III on Thursday admitted there are still some challenges with regards to the funding for the Universal Health Care (UHC) program following the signing of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the landmark law, Republic Act No. 11223.
In his speech at the ceremonial signing at the Manila Prince Hotel, Duque said the IRR is only the first step to the creation of a health system that works for all.
“We will begin with a change in perspective where health care is more than treating patients in our facilities. The health system will actively improve the health literacy, the health environment, the social determinants of health of every Filipino,” he said.
Duque said the availability of budget for the program is still a problem, particularly on the succeeding years of its implementation. The DOH will start to implement the program next year.
“The funding problem remains to be big. But not in the first year,” said Duque.
For the first year of implementation in 2020, the DOH said that P257 billion is needed to roll out the program.
“[That is] P257 billion in the first year of implementation with incremental increases of about 10 to 15 percent per annum, so all told, you’ve been talking about five year — 2020 to 2024– that will be about P1.5 trillion requirement to operationalize UHC,” he said.
Current fund sources for the UHC include the DOH budget, PhilHealth premium contributions, Philippine Amusement Gaming Corporation (Pagcor), and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
Despite the funding constraints, the health chief said that they are ready to implement the program in 33 pilot areas.
“I never said that there is enough money. In fact, I’ve been saying there’s not enough money but it does not mean that the implementation of the Universal Health Care law stops just because there is not enough funding. It will continue,” he said.
“This is universal in scope but progressive in approach. So, there will be a progressive roll-out,” he added.
Under the UHC program, all Filipinos will become automatic members of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) as direct or indirect contributors and shall be eligible to “No Balance Billing” once admitted to basic or ward accommodations in hospitals.
Meanwhile, PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales assured the public that they will protect the health insurance fund.
“Of course. Although I came to PhilHealth just four months ago, we’ve been doing some internal reforms…..We’re doing all these things realizing that there are a lot of responsibilities that are being placed on PhilHealth, so yes, we are doing everything to keep your money safe and to provide you with the services that are required when you need them,” he said.
The IRR would guide the DOH and its partner agencies in implementing the landmark law.
Quezon 4th District Rep. Helen Tan, author of the UHC Act in the House of Representatives, said while the law may not be perfect, it is a good start in improving the health condition of Filipinos, despite many challenges including appropriate funding.
“Ang bola ay nasa DOH and PhilHealth na (The ball is already in the hands of the DOH and PhilHealth [Philippine Health Insurance Corporation] already)…and you can’t afford to lose this battle for the people and now is the time to fulfill the promise of health care,” she said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, a co-author and co-sponsor of the UHC Act, said the legislators would monitor the implementation of the law through mandated performance evaluation mechanisms.
“Ito ay para masiguro na nagta-translate sa aktwal na pagbabago, na nararamdaman ng mga Pilipino ang reporma ng UHC law (This is to ensure that it [UHC law] translates to actual change, that every Filipino feels the reforms brought about by the UHC law),” Hontiveros said.
On February 20, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the UHC law which ensures that every Filipino, including overseas Filipino workers, are eligible to preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative care. (With reports from PNA)