On account of the widespread impact of the coronavirus pandemic, health care in the country has been redirected to its effective containment – to the apparent detriment of the overall quality of health care. The result is that those affected by other diseases – termed as comorbidities – have become more vulnerable to serious illnesses on account of the disruption.
In an apparent effort to address this concern, the Secretary of Finance has issued an assurance that the implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law will not be affected by the government’s mounting expenditures for COVID-19 treatment.
He said that ₱80 billion has been allocated to subsidize the premium payments of the indirect contributors under the UHC Law. As defined by the law’s implementing rules and regulations, they are “all others not included as direct contributors, as well as their qualified dependents, whose premium shall be subsidized by the national government including those who are subsidized as a result of special laws.”
When the UHC Law was enacted in February 2019, its coverage was significantly increased to cover the “indirect contributors,” including, among others, all senior citizens, all those residing in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; and all other citizens who are not gainfully employed or self-employed, including their dependents.
Earlier this year, private hospitals complained about the much-delayed reimbursement by PhilHealth of claims amounting to around ₱26 billion. Two months ago, PhilHealth reported that delays are being experienced mostly in relation to COVID claims that account for only 15 percent. The latest DOF announcement should assure hospitals that their claims would now be addressed expeditiously.
Attention must also be paid to two other important commitments of the government under the UHC Law that should be provided “within two years upon the effectivity of the law” which means starting February 2021.
First, “PhilHealth shall implement a comprehensive outpatient benefit, including outpatient drug benefit and emergency medical services” including but not limited to “services of health care professionals; diagnostic, laboratory, dental and other medical services; personal preventive services; prescription drugs and biologicals subject to the limitations of the Act; and other services deemed appropriate.”
Second: “The DOH and local government units (LGUs) shall endeavor to provide a health care delivery system that shall afford every Filipino a primary care provider” that shall “act as the navigator, initial and continuing point of contact in health care delivery system.” Moreover, “except in emergency or serious cases and when proximity is a concern, access to higher levels of care shall be coordinated by the primary care provider.”
These may not have been within the scope of what the Secretary of Finance has assured, considering the government’s massive COVID-related expenditures including vaccine procurement and the funding of ayuda or social safety net measures required by the two Bayanihan laws.
The second point is particularly important: It addresses the need for a reliable citizens’ health database management system that would facilitate contact tracing and immediate response to pandemic exigencies.
Perhaps these concerns would now be part of the citizens’ wish list as they ponder on their choices for new national leaders to be elected next year.