Senate approves Universal Health Care bill
The Senate passed Wednesday on third and final reading the landmark Universal Health Care Bill which seeks to guarantee equal access to quality and affordable health services for all Filipinos.
Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, said Senate Bill No. 1896 called for reforms in the mandate, responsibilities and jurisdiction of agencies that implement the country's universal health care program, such as the Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and local government units (LGUs).
Ejercito, who sponsored the bill, said records from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that Filipinos spent around P6,345 for their health needs in 2016 or 8.7 percent higher from P5,840 health expenditure in 2015.
He said majority of Filipinos consulted a doctor only when their illnesses were at their worst because of the lack of government support in health care.
"This bill will ensure that financial issues will no longer be a burden to our countrymen when it comes to healthcare," Ejercito said in his sponsorship speech.
Under the bill, all Filipino citizens will automatically be enrolled into the National Health Insurance Program whether as direct contributor (those who have the capacity to pay premiums) or indirect contributor (those sponsored by the government like the indigents, senior citizens, among others).
Ejercito said the passage of the bill into law would expand the PhilHealth coverage to include free consultation
fees, laboratory tests and other diagnostic services.
Under the bill, Filipino residents can avail of primary health care services even without the PhilHealth Identification Cards. Those not enrolled in the PhilHealth once the measure becomes a law could still avail the health care services since the premium subsidy will be gradually adjusted and included in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
In 2013, the mandatory coverage of indigent patients and other sponsored members of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has increased PhilHealth coverage up to 92 percent of the population or roughly 93.5 million Filipinos.
The bill also calls for the improvement of doctor-to-patient ratio, upgrading of hospital bed capacities and equipment as well as establishment of hospitals in remote areas.
DOH has pegged doctor-to-patient ratio at 1 is to 33,000 while bed to population ratio was pegged at 1 is to 1,121. In Metro Manila, the bed to population ratio is 1 is to 591 while bed to population ratio in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao is 1 is to 4,200.
Under the bill, all graduates of health-related courses from state universities and colleges or government-funded scholarship programs will be required to serve for at least three years in the public sector.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, co-sponsor of the bill, said the measure aims to address the issue of fragmentation of health care delivery system by providing a framework for the integration of the health system at the level of provinces and highly urbanized cities.
"This bill seeks to address barriers in health governance, health human resources, regulations, service delivery and health information that would prevent Filipinos from accessing care," Hontiveros said. DMS