Lawmakers question government’s readiness to implement UHC Law

Published November 13, 2019, 7:46 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Charissa Luci-Atienza

Lawmakers questioned Wednesday the readiness of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) to implement Republic Act 11223 or the “Universal Health Care (UHC) Law”.


At Wednesday’s Department of Health’s briefing on UHC Law and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR), Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing asked DOH Undersecretary Mario Villaverde about the DOH’s preparedness to implement the law in terms of health facilities, staffing and funding.

“How do you intend to roll this out? Because we have to inform every Filipino that they are already member of Philhealth. How will they register, where will they go to register because I heard that they should be registered. How prepared are we in the implementation of the law in terms of health facilities, staffing and funding?,” she asked.

Villaverde said preparations have been made, while they were crafting the IRR and even after the law was signed by President Duterte on February 20, 2019.

“The roll out will take place once we have crafted the initial batches of operational guidelines. As of now, we are crafting how to organize the local health system because this will be the funnel of all provisions. It is important that this will be organized into province-wide and city-wide health system for the smooth implementation of different provisions,” he said. Villaverde headed the Task Force that crafted the IRR of RA 11223. The IRR was signed by Duque last month.

He informed the House members that the Health Secretary Francisco Duque III created another task force, headed by Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo to prepare the provinces and cities in the implementation of the law.

He said at least 50 local government units (LGUs)—both highly urbanized cities and provinces– have manifested their initial interest “to be integrated” in the UHC program.

During the briefing, Villaverde admitted that there is “huge gap” in the healthcare provision, citing the need to set up additional 2,600 health care centers.

“The total need now of the Philippines is around 2,500 health centers,” he said. Currently, there are 2,500 health centers all over the country.

“We are studying the proposition that some private practitioners can be engaged by LGUs to provide certain package of services and they will be accredited by Philhealth as primary healthcare provider,” he said.

Nueva Ecija Rep. Ria Vergara, for her part, asked the DOH to conduct “transparent assessment” of each province and cities, as UHC law mandates the integration of the health system into province and citywide system.

“I would like to have [an] assessment because we cannot build on foundation that is weak,” she pointed out.

She even called for the review of the IRR of the law, as some quarters are supposedly discussing among themselves how to divide the health fund.

For his part, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. also raised concern over the government’s failure to hand down the guidelines on the registration of the LGUs.

“We have not received the guidelines on the registration of the LGUs. I know this because my wife happens to be a mayor,” he said.

“The integration of the program has not been actually in place,” Barzaga pointed out.

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said the UHC program should not be Philhealth-dependent, fearing that if the Philhealth collapses, it would also mean the meltdown of the program.

“One thing that we personally looked up as the possible big loophole in the UHC Act is the fact that going over the IRR, it seems to imply that UHC is somehow on a big perspective dependent on Philhealth. I look at this as a very big problem because if Philhealth collapses, then the whole UHC program goes down the drain,” she said.

“Will there be a way either by amendment? It is okay that the Phihealth is there, but it would be more comfortable that [the] whole law will lie on the DOH and not on Philhealth,” Garin said.

During the briefing, Philhealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales expressed Philhealth’s readiness to implement the program, citing its viable financial standing.

“Philhealth is financial[ly] viable for the moment and even for the immediate future,” he told the lawmakers, citing that their reserve fund amounts to P147 billion.