Costly health insurance fees

Feb. 20, 2012

PRESCRIPTION. Glen Biotumas shows his wife's prescription. Two out of three medicines are not available in the Southern Philippines Medical Center's pharmacy. ( photo by Medel V. Hernani)

What for Philhealth is universal health care, a health alliance called it “state abandonment,” saying that “the Aquino government should do more, not charge more, for the health of the people.”

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Instead of spending more for medical expenses, why not spend more for health insurance?

This was the argument of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation or PhilHealth when it recently announced it is hiking monthly fees of PHP 100 (USD 2.35) to PHP 200 (USD 4.71) or from an annual fee of PHP 1,200 (USD 28.26) to PHP 2,400 (USD 56.52).

WHY THE INCREASE. Doctor Eduardo Banzon, PhilHealth president and CEO, explains the increase of PhilHealth premiums in a recent press conference. ( photo by Medel V. Hernani)

PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Doctor Eduardo Banzon said during a press conference here, “We recognize that for us to go into Universal Health Care (UHC), we have to put money into health.”

UHC’s goal is to reduce medical expenses and shifting to health insurance spending.  Meaning, instead of spending more than half of the family income to medical expenses, or 55 percent, Philhealth wants to reduce this to 35 percent,  “That means shifting more money into pre-payments which is essentially higher premiums or more budgets for health,” said Banzon.

Philhealth payees, however, are expectedly unhappy with the new increases.

For Glen Biotumas, 26, he would have a hard time paying for the increased PhilHealth premiums.  His wife has just given birth at the Southern Philippine Medical Center (SPMC), a government hospital where PhilHealth implements its “no-balance-billing” policy.  This means that PhilHealth pays for the entire expenses of the patients.

Biotumas, a driver-cum-mechanic in one of the city’s car shops only earns PHP 200 (USD 4.71) a day.  “It’s very hard for us poor people if we’re going to pay PHP 2,400 annually,” he said.

Philhealth’s Banzon said that because many complain of smaller PhilHealth coverage for hospital expenses, “the increase in premiums is the solution” and stressed that PhilHealth members can afford it but are only “inconvenienced” in paying on time because of the proximity or accessibility for Philhealth office.

WHAT TO DO? Glen Biotumas whose wife has just given birth at the Southern Philippines Medical Center is thinking how he could buy his wife's antibiotics. He also finds it hard to pay the increased PhilHealth premium. ( photo by Medel V. Hernani)

Biotumas also showed his wife’s prescription which shows that two out of three of her medicines are not available in SPMC so he must buy them in drugstores not covered by PhilHealth.  “We’ll have to buy this antibiotic outside which is not free anymore,” he lamented.

Biotumas’s sentiment is not surprising, considering that state budget for health has turned for the worse.  The Department of Health will only be receiving PHP 42.77 billion (USD 1.01 billion) as its annual appropriation.  This means that each Filipino roughly gets only PHP 1.25 (USD 0.03) for health per day.

The Health Alliance for Democracy (Head), patients and their families, and other health organizations held a protest last week to denounce the increase in PhilHealth premiums.

“Filipinos are already paying for (healthcare) costs three times: through taxes, through Philhealth, and out of their own pockets every time they get sick,” said Dr. Geneve Rivera, Head’s secretary-general.

What for Philhealth is universal health care, Head called it “state abandonment,” saying that “the Aquino government should do more, not charge more, for the health of the people,” Rivera said.

Late last year, former health officials also expressed their reservation over the higher Philheath rates.  Jaime Galvez-Tan, Alberto Romualdez and Francisco Duque III chided the increase in PhilHealth premiums saying Philhealth must improve its benefits first.

Quoted during a seminar by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, Romualdez thinks that PhilHealth has to settle thrust issues among its present and would be members, “so that the people will be used to getting high quality health services and then increase the premium.”

Duque, for his part, said that a 100 percent universal health care coverage is “unrealistic,” while Galvez-Tan said that PhilHealth should instead spend its PHP 110-billlion (USD 2.57 billion) reserve fund.

PhilHealth received the highest share of subsidy for GOCCs (Government-Owned and Controlled Corporation) last year.  This year, it will get PHP 18.7 billion (USD 0.44 billion) in subsidy, and another PHP 1.5 billion (USD 0.035 billion) to cover for the health premiums of 2.9 million indigent families.

“What happened to these subsidies? And what are you doing with your billions in retained earnings?” Senator Ralph Recto asked.

He added that “PhilHealth could achieve viability and attain efficacy in its delivery of services without having to impose another burden to its members, which is essentially another form of payroll tax.”   (John Rizle L. Saligumba/

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