Financial issues will no longer be a burden to Filipinos when it comes to health care, according to Senator JV Ejercito once the Universal Health Care Bill, which was passed on third and final reading in the Senate on Wednesday, is enacted into law.
The senators unanimously voted, 14-0, to approve Senate Bill 1896 or the Universal Health Care bill.
Under the bill, all Filipino citizens will automatically be enrolled into the National Health Insurance as direct contributor or those who have the capacity to pay premiums or indirect contributor or the indigents, senior citizens, among others.
Ejercito, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, noted that the landmark Universal Health Care Bill guarantee equal access to quality and affordable health services for all Filipinos.
He said the bill called for reforms in the mandate, responsibilities, and jurisdiction of agencies that implement the country’s universal health care program, such as the Department of Health, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. and local government units.
Ejercito, who sponsored the bill, said records from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that Filipinos spent around P6,345 for their health needs in 2016 or 8.7 percent higher than the P5,840 health expenditure in 2015.
He said majority of Filipinos consulted a doctor only when their illnesses were already at their worst because of the lack of government support in health care.
Ejercito said the passage of the bill into law would expand the PhilHealth coverage to include free consultation fees, laboratory tests and other diagnostic services.
Under the bill, Filipino residents can avail of primary health care services even without the PhilHealth Identification Cards. Those not enrolled in the PhilHealth once the measure becomes a law could still avail of the health care services since the premium subsidy will be gradually adjusted and included in the General Appropriations Act.
In 2013, the mandatory coverage of indigent patients and other sponsored members of the Department of Social Welfare and Development has increased PhilHealth coverage up to 92 percent of the population or roughly 93.5 million Filipinos.
The bill also calls for the improvement of doctor-to-patient ratio, upgrading of hospital bed capacities and equipment as well as establishment of hospitals in remote areas.
DoH has pegged doctor-to-patient ratio at 1 to 33,000 while bed to population ratio was pegged at 1 to 1,121. In Metro Manila, the bed to population ratio is 1 to 591 while bed to population ratio in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao is 1 to 4,200.
Under the bill, all graduates of health-related courses from state universities and colleges or government-funded scholarship programs will be required to serve for at least three years in the public sector.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, co-sponsor of the bill, said the measure also aims to address the issue of fragmentation of health care delivery system by providing a framework for the integration of the health system at the level of provinces and highly urbanized cities.
She said the passage of the measure is “a giant leap forward in closing the gap between the rich and poor on the access and delivery of quality and affordable health services in the country.”
“This bill seeks to address barriers in health governance, health human resources, regulations, service delivery and health information that would prevent Filipinos from accessing care,” Hontiveros said.
“The measure will have a significant, lasting and profound effect on the health of every Filipinos as it closes the economic, class and gender gaps in the delivery of healthcare systems in the country,” Hontiveros added.
Filipinos can also avail of primary health care services even without the PhilHealth identification cards once the bill becomes a law.
The proposed measure also aims to improve the doctor-to-patient ratio, upgrade hospital bed capacities and equipment and establish hospital in far-flung areas.
“This bill will ensure that financial issues will no longer be a burden to our countrymen when it comes to healthcare,” Sen. JV Ejercito, the bill’s principal author, said when he sponsored the measure.
The House of Representatives earlier passed a version of the bill in September last year.
The passage of the bill immediately came after President Rodrigo Duterte has certified it as a priority bill.
The President issued the certification for the bill during a Cabinet meeting that ended before dawn on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters. Roque authored the bill in Congress.