By Louie Dy (Class 2021)
The Universal Health Care Bill, known as Senate Bill 1896, has passed the third and final reading on Wednesday, October 10, 2018. This National Health Security Program, approved by 14 Senators, seeks to provide health care coverage and benefits to every Filipino.
This bill was first prepared and submitted jointly by the Committees on Health and Demography, Ways and Means, and Finance, with senators Ralph G. Recto, Joseph Victor G. Ejercito, Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay, Leila M. De Lima, Cynthia A. Villar, Juan Edgardo “Sonny” M. Angara, Risa Hontiveros, Joel Villanueva And Sherwin T. Gatchalian on July 30, 2018.
The current National Health Insurance Program, more commonly known as PhilHealth, implements what the World Health Organization (WHO) defines as “voluntary enrollment”, wherein each Filipino has the option to be or not be part of the said program. Participants of PhilHealth pay premiums, which allows them to avail of service packages as needed.
Contrary to PhilHealth, the National Health Security Program proposes “compulsory enrollment”, wherein each income earner is required to pay premiums. The government will then pool these funds and spend them for those unable to contribute. PhilHealth Identification Cards (PHID) will no longer be required. The funds for the program will also be sourced from the tobacco sin taxes – a process called earmarking.
In conjunction with this, the Sin Tax Coalition, headed by Dr. Antonio Dans, is lobbying for increase in tobacco sin tax. According to him, this primarily aims to curb the number of smokers – to address the problem of one million new smokers, 47 diseases, and 150,000 deaths in a year. Increasing revenue is only secondary.
Dr. Lopao Medina from the Department of Family and Community Medicine remarks that while this is a welcome development, he is still nervous and skeptical about the whole thing being not “Alma Ata Health For All”. His comments on this bill are reserved until the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) are crafted.
“My reservations mainly revolve around how the law will address the existing health inequities in our country in terms of devolution of health care as well as the two-tiered, private-public, health care system. ‘Yang dalawang yan ang I think [are the keys] to any analysis of the potential impact or benefits of the law,” Dr. Medina said.
Dr. Gene Nisperos expresses that the new law is but an expanded PhilHealth law and begs on why “more of the same” when it has not worked for the past 23 years. According to him, it creates the illusion of “affordable and accessible” healthcare and does not address the fundamental problem of expensive healthcare. The government still remains a purchaser of health services rather than a provider of these. “Universal Health Care, as interpreted by the Senate and the House of Representatives, is not yet equivalent to Health For All,” he said.