By Mario Casayuran
By a vote of 18 affirmative votes, no negative vote, the 24-member Senate approved on Monday a bill seeking to institutionalize the establishment of Malasakit Centers or one-stop shop centers for medical and financial assistance in all 73 Department of Health (DOH)-run hospitals nationwide.
Senator Christopher Lawrence ‘’Bong’’ Go, author and sponsor of Senate Bill No. 1076, known as the Malasakit Center Act of 2019, said the bill sought the consolidation of the assistance provided by the DOH, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) under one roof so that patients would no longer have to endure long lines in different agencies to avail of aid.
“To clarify, we are not providing additional funds for assistance, we are merely establishing a one-stop shop for medical and financial assistance,” Go said.
He said concerned government agencies would still retain and run their own medical assistance programs.
Senate President Ralph G. Recto commended Go for conceptualizing the health-related measure.
Go, for his part, thanked his colleagues who supported his bill.
The health committee of the House of Representatives recently approved its version of the Malasakit Center bill.
This after Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, an opposition lawmaker, had said he believes the Malasakit Centers are being used as a ‘’partisan tool.’’
According to Go, there are currently 50 Malasakit Centers nationwide serving 160,000 patients.
Despite the passage of the Universal Health Care into law, Go said indigent patients have to shell out money for expenditures that are not covered by the benefit package under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).
He cited a 2017 Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data which showed that out-of-pocket payment accounted for 55 percent of health expenditures despite the safety nets provided by PhilHealth.
“Data from Mercer Marsh Benefits 2019 Medical Trends Around the World showed that medical inflation rate will outpace the actual inflation in the country and is projected to rise to 13.7 percent. This makes our medical inflation rate the second highest in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, next to Vietnam’s 14.2 percent,” Go said.
Under the bill, hospitals run by Local Government Unites (LGUs) and other public hospitals may also establish their own Malasakit Centers provided that they guarantee the availability of funds for the operation of their centers including its maintenance, personnel, staff training, among others.
Go explained that patients who would be admitted to LGU and other public hospitals but are eligible for medical and financial assistance could also seek assistance from the Malasakit Centers.
Go said one of the functions of the Malasakit Centers would be to provide patient navigation and referral to the health care provider networks.
He said the centers would provide patients information with regards to membership, coverage and benefit packages in the National Health Insurance Program, document, process and utilize data from patient experience through a standardized form to shape institutional changes in the hospital and provide capacity building and performance evaluation that ensure good client interaction.
The bill adopted an amendment from Sen. Risa Hontiveros which would require Malasakit Centers to provide “critical information on healthy behaviors and conduct health promotion activities in the hospital.” She said the additional function would further enhance the health promotion function of the center.
The bill also adopted Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon’s amendment which ensured that the proposed legislation would not limit the “access to or availability of medical and financial assistance only to indigent and financially incapacitated patients referred through Malasakit Centers.”
For his part, Recto wanted to ensure that patients in other government hospitals without Malasakit Centers would continue to receive medical assistance from the DOH and that “financially incapacitated patients who seek health services in other public hospitals and private facilities are still eligible to avail of financial and medical assistance subject to the assessment and recommendation of the medical social worker.”
“It is with high expectations that we would be able to streamline and expedite the delivery of services to Filipinos, especially to those who need them most,” Go said.