Towards a better Philippine healthcare system

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During last Monday’s Cabinet meeting, President Rodrigo Duterte certified the Universal Health Care Bill as urgent. This bill is close to my heart as I was the principal author of House Bill No. 5784 which I filed when I was still a member of the House of Representatives. I was also the one who defended the bill during the bill’s period of interpellation in the Second Reading.

With the bill’s certification as urgent, the counterpart version in the Senate is now on a fast-track towards approval. We are again a step closer towards institutionalizing universal health care in the country.

Under this bill, we seek to provide for the constitutionally-mandated right to health by providing primary care to absolutely all Filipinos. For the longest time – quite inexcusably a long time for that matter – Filipinos have lived under a constant threat of poverty the moment an illness strikes. Health care services and medicine in the Philippines are often prohibitive to ordinary Filipinos as shown by the latest data that a vast majority of patients shoulder these expenses out of their own pockets.

The prioritization of the Universal Health Care Bill is a reflection of the Duterte Administration’s unrelenting commitment to provide the Filipino people, especially those who belong to the marginalized and disadvantaged sectors, with sufficient and better health care services. Indeed, this is tapang at malasakit (guts and sacrifice) exemplified.

This bill is groundbreaking because beneficiaries will be entitled to health coverage simply by virtue of their citizenship as Filipinos – the proposed law provides health security to Filipinos not because they can pay premiums but simply because they are Filipinos. Indeed, one of the key features of this bill is it enables all individuals and communities to receive the full spectrum of health services they need, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.

As I mentioned in this space a few weeks back, I filed my version of the bill during my very first day at the House of Representatives because I sincerely believe Filipinos who cannot afford treatment should not bear the heavy weight of paying off these medical services. As a former Constitutional law professor, I take to heart Article 13, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution which provides “[t]he State shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavor to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all the people at affordable cost.”

The President’s certification of the bill as urgent could not come at a better time. Given the rising number of leptospirosis and dengue cases nowadays, having universal health coverage would mean peace of mind for the families of dengue and leptospirosis patients, most especially the underprivileged ones. They can now rest assured that the government will take care of them without them drowning in debt. Indeed, an effective health system focuses both on improving the health of beneficiaries as well as limiting the financial consequences of medical care.

There are two classifications of members: contributing and non-contributing or those who pay premiums and those who don’t. The government will shoulder the premiums of the non-contributing members so this bill is inclusive in every sense of the word. Gone will be the days of having to comply with a minimum number of contributions in order to avail of coverage.

We recognize that health is not just merely the absence of disease or infirmity but a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being. I for one look forward to the day when this historic piece of legislation becomes a law.