Bicam approves universal health care bill

Sofia Tomacruz
Bicam approves universal health care bill
If the bill is signed into law, all Filipinos would get 'immediate eligibility' for and access to the full spectrum of health care

MANILA, Philippines – A bicameral conference committee composed of lawmakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives approved the bill seeking to provide health care for all Filipinos on Tuesday, November 27.

The reconciled version of the universal health care (UHC) bill seeks to automatically enroll all Filipinos in the proposed National Health Insurance Program.

Membership in the program can either be direct, meaning those who can pay health premiums, or indirect, such as those who are sponsored like senior citizens and indigents.

The program would be handled by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

What the bill would provide: If the bill is signed into law, Filipinos would get “immediate eligibility” for and access to the full spectrum of health care, which includes preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative care for medical, dental, mental, and emergency health services.

Patients would be registered with a primary health care provider of their choice, for outpatient care, medicines, and laboratory tests. These will also be included in PhilHealth’s primary care benefits package.

Direct contributory members would also get more benefits as premiums increase. According to lawmakers, this would be encouraging for those who pay higher premiums and those who are voluntarily paying.

Membership rates would also gradually increase by .5% yearly, while income ceilings for contributions would go up by P10,000 per year.

Meanwhile, PhilHealth payments for local government unit (LGU) hospitals would be set aside in a special fund to improve the health facilities in LGUs.

The bill also seeks to create a Health Technology Assessment Council which would craft recommendations for the development of policies and programs. It would also help determine PhilHealth benefit packages.

If the measure is signed into law, health care services would transition in phases so they would not be disrupted. This would also give implementing agencies time to adjust to the UHC system.

Where funds would come from: Funds for the implementation of UHC would be sourced from the following;

  • Department of Health (DOH) annual budget
  • Revenues from sin taxes
  • Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (50% of the national government’s share)
  • Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (40% of the fund, net of documentary stamp tax payments and mandatory contributions)
  • PhilHealth members’ contributions
  • Government subsidies to PhilHealth

According to the DOH, about P257 billion would be needed to implement UHC in its first year. (READ: WHO to PH: ‘Real investment’ in universal health care ‘needs to happen’)

The bill’s reconciled version comes after the Senate approved Senate Bill No. 1896 in October this year, while the House approved House Bill No. 5784 in September 2017.

The Senate and the House now have to ratify the reconciled version of the bill before it can be signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte. (READ: Duterte urges ‘speedy passage’ of universal health care bill)

Kabayan Representative Ron Salo, one of the bill’s principal authors and a member of the bicam, said the approval of the UHC bill will allow Filipinos to access proper health care without having to worry about high costs.

He said in a statement on Tuesday, “Having everyone covered by public health insurance so as not to suffer financial catastrophe whenever one gets ill will now be realized.” – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.