Angara: PhilHealth should include mental health in its primary care benefit package

Senator Sonny Angara on Wednesday, February 1 reiterated the need for the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to include mental and behavioral disorders in its primary care benefit packagesto ease the financial burden of those seeking professional help.

Angara issued the statement following the Department of Education’s (DepEd) report that 404 students ended their lives, while 2, 147 learners had attempted suicide and 775,962 sought counseling for mental health problems in 2021.

“We are pushing for a measure which would have PhilHealth packages cover therapy sessions and other mental health needs,” Angara said.

“This would help curb the increasing numbers of young people taking their lives,” he said.

Angara has filed Senate Bill No. 920, which seeks to amend Republic Act No. 11036 or the “Mental Health Act.”

“While we remain optimistic that this law will continue to address the growing needs of those who seek help, the law must also be strengthened particularly for those who do not have adequate funds to seek treatment,” Angara said in the explanatory note of the bill.

The senator noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has also added strain on the mental well-being of many Filipinos particularly to those who lost their jobs and whose livelihood have been significantly impeded.

“While RA 11036 has made it easier for all of us to seek professional help, the financial burden of these services can still be challenging to some, especially as PhilHealth has yet to increase its benefit package of P7,800 for mental and behavioral disorders,” Angara said.

“Hence, the proposed measure seeks to increase the case rate package being currently offered by PhilHealth and include therapy sessions as part of the said package. In addition, the measure shall also mandate that mental health services be included in the primary care benefit package of the Corporation,” he pointed out.

Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, also said that Congress earmarked P4.029-billion for mental health programs under the 2023 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she hopes the DepEd and the DOH would proactively impleemnt the provisions of the Mental Health Law.

Hontiveros also said the DepEd should address the shortage in mental health personnel by hiring more guidance counsellors.

“I also hope that DepEd and DOH would be able to come up with comprehensive preventive and protection strategies to address suicide: from identifying and supporting people at risk, building protective learning environments, equipping students with coping and problem-solving skills, and ensuring availability and accessibility of safer suicide care services and delivery,” she said.

Sen. Grace Poe also said that with the incidence of suicide cases among students, it is imperative for schools to not only focus on honing the intellectual capabilities of students but also their mental resilience especially coming out of a pandemic.

“Educational institutions should develop and strengthen their own programs on providing regular counseling to students and teaching and non-teaching personnel,” Poe said.

“We trust that the DepEd will fortify partnerships with reputable associations for mental health and psychosocial support programs in schools. Mental health issues should no longer be stigmatized,” she pointed out.

Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, however, said the government should address mental health issues brought about by the lockdowns and the pandemic, not only for students, but for workers and all citizens who might need help.

“It just so happens that the data that’s available is with respect to students... DOH should consolidate the data on this so both government and Congress can enact policies to address this problem,” Escudero said.