Gov’t urged to fund health insurance for vendors, drivers
Current funds only subsidize the poorest of the poor, not the working poor, former Health Secretary Francisco Duque says

MANILA, Philippines – Former Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said yesterday that 15% of the population — or about 14 million Filipinos — are still not covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (Philhealth).

This number, according to Duque, may primarily be composed of members of the so-called informal sector, not the indigents. The informal sector includes vendors, drivers and the self-employed or the working poor who get to enjoy Philhealth benefits only by enrolling themselves. 

Some 5.2 million families certified as “poorest of the poor” by the Department of Social Welfare and Development have already been enrolled in Philhealth by the national government.

In his State of the Nation Address on July 23, President Benigno Aquino III boasted that 85% of Filipinos are now covered by Philhealth and the agency’s benefit packages will continue to expand.

But while there are funds for the indigents, Duque said, a bigger challenge is how to enroll the informal sector into the program. 

“There are funds for the indigents. We should recognize the Aquino administration for prioritizing them,” said Duque. “The biggest challenge is enrolling those in the informal sector,” he added.

Scattered and costly to insure

According to Duque, it is hard to reach out to the informal sector because they are not organized.

“In the 10 years that I was with Philhealth as Chief Executive Officer and (president), I saw that as the Achille’s heel. That is the most difficult and costliest (sector) to cover because they are not organized and they are scattered.”

“I strongly propose that this should be subsidized. Hindi mo maaabot ang universal health coverage kung wala sila. Mananatiling mahina ang programa,” Duque said. (Without them, the program will remain weak.)

He estimated that there are 15,000 individuals – or 5 million families – in the informal sector, and the government will spend P6 billion to pay their annual premium contribution of P1,200 under the old rate.

Duque currently serves as chairperson of the Civil Service Commission. He had served as Philhealth president and later on as health secretary during the Arroyo administration. 

Not interested

Duque spoke at the first “DOH Secretary’s Cup,” an event organized by the DOH, the Universal Health Care Study Group of the University of the Philippines and Asia 21 Young Leaders’ Initiative Philippines. 

Apart from Duque, the event was attended by health secretary Enrique Ona and former health secretaries Jaime Galvez-Tan, Alberto Romualdez and Esperanza Cabral.

For his part, Ona said that in reality, there is no social health insurance in the world that has 100% coverage because there are people who are not interested in insurance. “It doesn’t matter if they are rich or poor but there are people who just don’t care.”

Asked about Duque’s proposal, Ona said that government cannot afford to cover for all Filipinos.

“I wish we can afford that but all countries say they cannot afford. The informal sector is big. But some people, whether rich or people, will always say, ‘I don’t care,'” Ona said.  –