MANILA, Philippines – For Senator Risa Hontiveros and Quezon Representative Angelita Tan, the coronavirus pandemic is the best time to strengthen the implementation of the universal health care law.
During a joint congressional oversight committee meeting on the Universal Health Care Act on Tuesday, June 16, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) President and CEO Ricardo Morales recommended to the committee a “general delay” of the implementation of the law as well as the postponement of the expansion of Primary Care Benefits.
“Our collection is actually…to tell you the truth is about 10% of what it was from last year. The collection from direct contributors has dropped significantly kasi wala hong negosyo (because there’s no business). Wala pong nagbabayad ng premiums sa direct contributors (Direct contributors are not paying their premiums),” Morales said.
Morales said indirect contributors also depend on business activities that have suffered from economic losses due to community quarantines being implemented across the country. (READ: EXPLAINER: What Filipinos can expect from the Universal Health Care Law)
But Tan, who chairs the House health committee, said PhilHealth should be focusing on the primary health care of Filipinos as most of them are afraid of going to hospitals because of fear of contracting coronavirus.
“With the realization ng nangyari sa COVID-19 at ng pandemic, hindi ba mas kailangan nating paigtingin ang implementation of primary care services particularly ‘yung kabuuan ng health care system, ‘yung loopholes in the health system?” Tan asked.
(With the realization of what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, shouldn’t we all the more strengthen the implementation of primary care services, particularly the whole health care system and its loopholes?)
While she understood PhilHealth’s low collection because of the pandemic, Tan advised the agency to also focus on the health of Filipinos who are not hospitalized.
“Ang impact noon ay mas ma le-less ang expenses ninyo in terms of hospitalization (The impact would be lesser expenses for hospitalization),” Tan told Morales.
Hontiveros, who was one of the co-sponsors of the law in the Senate, shared the same sentiment, saying that since PhilHealth is already responding to the COVID-19 crisis, “it would still be wise or wiser to spend on primary health care in order to preempt higher expenditures.”
Hontiveros also expressed deep concern over the recommendation to delay the implementation of the universal health care law.
“Kailangan kong aminin sir na sa dalawang recommendation na general delay and postponement of primary health care expansion…. Nashock ako…. I was expecting na iba ang kanilang recommendation,” Hontiveros told Senator Bong Go, who chairs the Senate health committee.
(I have to admit sir that I was shocked by the two recommendations on the general delay and postponement of primary health care expansion. I was expecting they would have a different recommendation.)
Hortiveros said the coronavirus pandemic is the “litmus test” for the implementation of the law.
Surrounded by lawmakers who championed the measure, President Rodrigo Duterte affixed his signature to the univeral health care law or Republic Act No 11223 on February 19, 2020. On October 10, the DOH signed its implementing rules and regulations.
Under the universal health care law, PhilHealth is tasked with implementing the National Health Insurance Program, which covers all Filipino citizens.