MANILA – Every Filipino is now covered by a local version of universal healthcare, practically putting the country at par with many developed nations.
There’s just one catch. While President Rodrigo Duterte signed on Wednesday, Feb. 20, the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law, it will take a while before it is fully implemented owing to budgetary constraints.
While already signed into law, funding is expected to come from the additional revenue to be earned from an increase from tobacco taxes.
Sans the increase, the government will have to make do with a budget of P3.8 trillion this year, with the Health department getting a lower share than the Defense and Education departments.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the implementation of UHC will be “gradual” as there simply not enough funds allotted to the Department of Health, prime implementer of the new law.
Panelo said the government would try its utmost to fund the law with supplementary sources of income from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and the Philippine Gaming Corporation.
Past administrations had taken smaller steps to implement universal healthcare in the country. Under the previous Aquino administration, for example, senior citizens were granted automatic membership to Philhealth. Any senior citizen who could show proof that he or she was 60 and above were given big discounts for medical procedures and doctors’ professional fees, as well as free medicine and hospitalization.
In the decades after World War II, the PCSO became the go to organization where poor Filipinos could receive cash to pay for medical bills. All they had to do was to show proof that they were indigent and in need of emergency medical care.
Critics of the Duterte administration, however, point out that what was actually signed could end up as a paper tiger, a toothless law that only exists on paper. Moreover, they point out that other presidents had taken smaller steps leading to today’s UHC law.
Pro-Duterte lawmakers, on the other hand, insist that the new law is “historic,” as it marks the first time that all Filipinos are covered by a law that protects their health.
House Deputy Majority Leader Ron Salo said the president had given a gift to the Filipino people that was “priceless.”
“A healthy Philippines will become a much more progressive, developed, and economically strong nation,” he said.
But first Congress and the Executive department have to solve the funding problem and make sure hospitals are not swamped by patients demanding free treatment.
As far back as the 1990s, previous administrations had supported Congressional plans to implement a UHC law, but were always prevented from doing so because of the huge costs involved.
With the new law, all Filipinos are considered enrolled in the National Health Insurance Program.