Antidote to a Filipino nightmare? A peek into the Philippine’s Universal Health Care Law

Aug. 12, 2019

Patuluga na lang na siya sa dayon, ingna ang mga doktor.” (Make him fall asleep forever, tell the doctors).

These are the words of desperation from a sobbing child who could not bear to see her father unattended in a regional hospital emergency room. The child saw her father suffer in seizure after an accident that cracked his skull back in their province. They travelled with her relatives for more than six hours to bring her father to the city where a bigger, more equipped, cheaper, public hospital is located.

Kadali lang ha? Gitawagan na ang doktor,” (Please bear with us, the doctor is being called) explained a nurse to the child. “Pasensya na day, daghan kaayo pasyente nakauna ninyo ug himalatyon na pud,” (There are so many patients who came ahead of you and they are also dying) replied a doctor. The child grabbed to ask help for her father.

For this little girl, and the rest of the poor families from the rural areas who can’t afford private hospitals or immediate medical services, this scenario has become a common nightmare in public hospitals. The relatives of this dying patient either felt they could die first from a heart attack. Crying and praying in one corner waiting in vain for doctors to arrive and attend to their patient before death.

The Philippines has over 100 million populations with only a handful of medical services, personnel and establishments available for poor families.

Can the new universal health care (UHC) program recently signed into law and to be implemented soon by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) turn nightmares to relief?

Can poor Filipino families now rejoice over a new law that promises greater access to Philippine health care?

The new Universal Health Care law says it aims to “ensure that all Filipinos are guaranteed equitable access to quality and affordable health care goods and services, and be protected against financial risk.”

The law also promises automatic inclusion of every Filipino into the National Health Insurance Program and plans to simplify PhilHealth membership into Direct (with capacity to pay premiums) and Indirect Contributors (sponsored by government such as senior citizens, indigents and persons with disabilities). The law says “all Filipinos are guaranteed zero co-payments for basic/ward accommodations and fixed co-payment for non-basic admissions in public hospitals.”

In terms of human resources, the law deems to implement a National Health Human Resource Master Plan in order to provide appropriate health workforce based on population health needs.

According to Health Secretary Dr. Francisco Duque III, for the implementation of the law in its first year, the government has allotted Php 254 billion.

Whether the law would actually increase accessibility and ease financial risk of the poor Filipino families remain to be seen.

In a society having marginalized sectors like in the Philippines, poor health is a twin problem. An improved health care system is definitely a necessity. However, with the new health care system law yet to be implemented, nightmares like that of the little girl and many other poor Filipino families would still hound our few public hospitals.

The Filipino people are surely expecting high from this new law, that could somehow transform their nightmares into a pleasant dream to be realized.

Is an antidote of change coming?

Dr. Erwin M. Faller is currently a consultant in Research Management Centre in Tagum Doctors College. He was a former Senior Lecturer and a researcher in Malaysia. An Overseas Filipino Worker who was awarded as Bagong Bayani Awardee for Outstanding Employee in 2018. Right now, he has published numerous scientific research studies, editorial board and a reviewer of International Journals. He is active in advocacies on migrant workers and refugee’s health issues and accessibility of healthcare.

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