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MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) The bill seeking to give all senior citizens automatic insurance coverage hurdled the Senate on Monday, September 22, a month after its author, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, told Philippine Health Insurance (Philhealth) that such was “an affordable proposition.”
When enacted, Senate Bill 712 will make mandatory the provision of Philhealth coverage to all Filipinos 60 years and above regardless of their social or economic status.
Under the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010, only indigent senior citizens are entitled to free health insurance coverage.
“As of June of this year, PhilHealth has covered 3.9 million senior citizens as lifetime members, dependents, sponsored or indigents,” said Senator Teofisto Guingona III in his sponsorship speech of the bill. Around 2.16 million senior citizens have yet to get health insurance coverage.
“The government will need about P5.2 billion annually to provide the remaining 2.16 million citizens with insurance. But this amount is small when we compare to the hope we would give to our grandparents. This is a small price to pay for the promise of universal health care we have promise our citizens,” Guingona said.
On August 20, in his own sponsorship of the bill, Recto said it is financially possible for the government to extend free insurance coverage to all senior citizens in the country.
The senator said then that PhilHealth, the national health insurance program, “can never claim that government has been thrifty or tardy in infusing funds” due to its increasing annual budget.
PhilHealth obtained a budget of P12.6 billion ($287 million) for 2013, P35.34 billion ($805 million) for 2014, and P37.06 billion ($845 million) for 2015.
“Please note that the one for 2015 is on top of the almost P3.6 billion ($82 million) that national government will be remitting to PhilHealth as an employer to more than one million workers,” Recto added.
PhilHealth even reportedly benefited the most from funds obtained from the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and diverted to the health sector. Philhealth received 44% of the total P3.39 billion ($77.3 million) DAP funds given to the Department of Health. (READ: Bulk of DOH’s DAP fund went to PhilHealth subsidy)
He also reminded that Philhealth has just increased its annual premium rates in early 2014, wherein the lowest monthly premium for members with a salary range of P8,999.99 and below increased from P100 to P200.
“PhilHealth can never plead funding anemia,” Recto said.
Recto revealed that as of December 31, Philhealth has P116 billion ($2.65 billion) in reserves and P62 billion ($1.41 billion) in income, hence “enrolling all seniors will not put PhilHealth in financial ICU.”
The senator was promoting Senate Bill 712 or the Bill on the Mandatory Philhealth Coverage for All Senior Citizens, which he filed in July 2013. “The ideal is that the minute they blow out the candles on their 60th birthday cake to the moment they breathe their last – they should be PhilHealth members,” he said.
Protect the elderly
Recto said that while some fiscal conservatives might question the cost of this proposed measure, providing free insurance coverage to all senior citizens should not be considered as “a revenue loss.”
“They are our senior citizens and it is time that we pay them back. They have invested in our future and they are entitled to dividends. This bill settles but a small portion of what we owe them. No obligation is more outstanding.” he said.
There is an estimated 5.91 million Filipinos aged 60 and above in 2012 – accounting for only 6.1% of the country’s population.
A report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2012 stated that senior citizens encounter problems on health care, one of which is access to affordable medicines. (READ: Senior Pinoys to reach 23.63-M in 2050 – UNFPA)
“Health insurance can never be called universal if it does not cover all seniors. Enrolling them must be automatic, not optional.” Recto said. (Editor’s note: We earlier converted pesos into dollars using the wrong formula. The dollar values here have been updated. We regret the error.) – Reynaldo Santos Jr/Rappler.com
*$1 = P43.8511