Former Sen. Edgardo J. Angara
BEFORE a new administration takes office position in a couple of months, let’s review the gains and benefits made in the health sector under the leadership of President Benigno Aquino III.
Some big health improvements have been made, particularly Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood Act (RA 10354), mandating that reproductive health services be universally accessible; expanding the coverage of the National Health Insurance Act of 2013 (RA 10606), allowing automatic PhilHealth coverage for indigents and the informal sector; and the Graphic Health Warnings Law of 2014 (RA 10643), requiring tobacco products to bear eye-catching warnings that effectively convey the risks of tobacco use and exposure to second hand smoke.
The most far-reaching is the passage of the Sin Tax Law (RA 10351), providing quantum leap in funding support to PhilHealth. Despite a strong lobby against the measure, the Aquino administration mustered the political will necessary to pass the contentious measure. The winning margin in the Senate was only one vote.
The Sin Tax Law, to repeat, vastly increased the funds available to the perennially budget-deprived Department of Health (DOH). Within the first year of its enactment on December 2012, the 2014 DOH budget jumped by 57 percent from the preceding year—a boost that amounted to more than PhP 30 billion. This year, up to PhP 122.7 billion has been allocated to the DOH, nearly five times the agency’s 2010 budget of PhP 24.65 billion.
Such a large infusion of funds has enabled government to cover the PhilHealth premiums of some 5.6 million informal sector workers, their families, senior citizens and indigent patients—pushing the national coverage from 74 percent of Filipino families in 2011 to around 92 percent of Filipino families today.
The extra funds have also enabled PhilHealth to expand its offerings—for instance, the Z Benefit package for leukemia in children, sufferers of early stage breast cancer, and low to intermediate prostate cancer.
Several challenges remain however. Former health secretary Esperanza Cabral for one pointed out in a presentation during a recent health sector colloquium that there is still a gap of 2,492 rural health units (RHUs), 310 barangay health stations (BHS), and 21,000 hospital beds.
Dr. Anthony Leachon of the Philippine College of Physicians Foundation meanwhile cautioned that a healthcare manpower crisis is looming—gaining the Philippines the dubious status of being among the top countries-of-origin of the world’s doctors, nurses, and midwives.
Huge gaps in access persist as people in urban centers have access to world-class hospitals, doctors, and medicines, while those in far-flung areas still succumb to illness without seeing a healthcare professional.
The last six years have been marked by big gains, but clearly our goal of achieving a healthy nation is far from realized. More steps need to be taken. The next administration we hope will keep the momentum for change going.
Vital Signs Issue 87 Vol. 4, May 1-31 2016