Universal Health Care as priority no. 1


Sonny Coloma

In February 2019, a new and expanded Universal Health Care (UHC) law was enacted by Congress to improve upon the earlier version that was passed in 1995. Its implementing rules and regulations provided for a two-year period – or until this year, 2021 – for many of its salient provisions to be put in place. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic disrupted this timetable. As we look ahead to electing new leaders in 2022, it may be well to take stock of what needs to be done to ensure that the country will be better prepared and equipped to cope with a national health emergency.

But first, a quick diversion to an equally important point: The massive migration of Filipina nurses to the proverbial greener pastures such as the United States and Great Britain where their services are highly valued and compensated depletes the country’s pool of health front liners. Meantime, the vast majority of Filipinos remain unable to gain access to primary health care.

This brings us back to our focus on the importance of the Universal Health Care Act.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez has just confirmed that some P80 billion in funds are available to ensure that the UHC law is adequately funded.

He said that P80 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.

Recall that up to early this year, there was an outcry from the private hospitals deploring the long-delayed reimbursement of their claims from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) amounting to more than P26 billion. When one of the TV stations checked with the PhilHealth spokesperson sometime last August – just as Metro Manila was placed anew under the strictest lockdown due to the onset of the deadly Delta variant – she reported that only 15 percent of claims were COVID-related and that the private hospitals’ repayment claims were being addressed by immediately paying 60 percent of all their verified reimbursement claims.

Lest we forget, the Senate – acting as a committee of the whole – conducted an investigation on alleged widespread corruption in PhilHealth and recommended sweeping reforms. After a former NBI Director was installed as PhilHealth president, attention has been diverted away from this controversy.

But attention must be paid to the enormity of the mandate of the expanded UHC law which states:

“Every Filipino shall be granted immediate eligibility and access to preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative care for medical, dental, mental and emergency health services, delivered as population-based or individual-based health services.” Provided, That a fair and transparent health technology assessment (HTA) process, as described in Section 34 of these Rules, shall govern the nclusion of health goods and services to which every Filipino is eligible to access through PhilHealth and DOH.