Plea for mental health funding

Department of Health data showed that 3.3 percent of Filipinos suffer from depressive disorder, while 3.1 percent are affected by anxiety disorders.

Amid increasing violent incidents and suicides involving Filipino children, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., or PhilHealth, has called on the government for additional funding support for Republic Act 11036, otherwise known as the Philippine Mental Health Law.

PhilHealth made the plea during a briefing it gave to concerned government agencies regarding mental health issues being faced by Filipinos of all ages as exacerbated by conditions under the so-called “new normal” spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Albert Domingo of PhilHealth admitted that the P7,800 in treatment costs ceiling that the agency can spare for each patient with dementia, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders is grossly inadequate.

Moreso, he said, mental health issues must be addressed at an early age not only to stem rising depression and suicide cases by young Filipinos but also to ensure their mental wellness as adults.

“Based on research, mental health conditions stem from childhood, and it gets tougher to treat it as the person grows older. We have evidence that mental health issues such as depression, [and] anxiety, can be prevented if we can address it at an early age,” Domingo said.

“Mental health conditions stem from struggles within the family, community, parents having mental health problems too, lack of food and shelter, being exposed to high-risk households. We look at our children as patients, but it would be better for us to find solutions to these situations that affect children’s mental state,” he added.

Short of admitting that PhilHealth’s budget is already stretched, Domingo said they are pushing the Department of Health, or DoH, to assume and pay for primary care through additional funding appropriation by Congress and prompt release of the same by the Department of Budget and Management.

“This (additional funding from the DoH) should be on top or separate from the budget for insurance premiums,” Domingo stressed, adding they are pilot-testing new mental health packages that had been fine-tuned to the differing mental health and financial capabilities of patients.

He said 12 care consultation, diagnostics, psychological education, and psychosocial support center are being tested in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Davao. He added that accredited primary care teams, physicians, allied professionals, and outpatient mental health specialists are being deployed in the centers being pilot-tested.

PhilHealth, Domingo revealed, is reviewing the clinical evidence and service delivery systems for varying mental health conditions requiring specific medical interventions. The PhilHealth official emphasized that all interventions, whatever form they take, need funding.

Department of Health data current to 2021 showed that 3.3 percent of all Filipinos suffered from depressive disorder while 3.1 percent were affected by anxiety disorders. This is against the backdrop of mental health accounting for 10 percent of the so-called global burden of disease or GBD, and 30 percent of non-fatal GBD based on World Health Organization figures.

In 2013, the World Economic Forum estimated that the “cumulative impact of mental disorders on economic output alone” would cost nations $16 trillion in 20 years. We are halfway through period covered by that WEF estimate and the prognosis, alas, has been made worse by the additional mental health burdens imposed on people by Covid.

PhilHealth’s plea for cash is nothing new as the DoH, in its Administrative Order 12, series of 2021, entitled Implementing Guidelines on the Medicine Access Program for Mental Health, put forth the need for such under MAP-MH which was started in 2012.

Presently, MAP-MH has 207 access sites for Filipinos in need of mental health drugs, numbering, based on the DoH count, 39,000 — a figure that may be too low considering the possibility of unreported mental health cases.

Under Section 8, item 4 of the said DoH AO, PhilHealth had been tasked by the department to “develop and implement an outpatient” program for mental health beneficiaries. For PhilHealth, developing such a package that is attuned to present mental health realities may be the easy part — funding the same may be the real challenge.

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