Senate approves Universal Health Care bill

By Jose Cielito Reganit

October 10, 2018, 5:41 pm

MANILA -- The Senate on Wednesday passed on third and final reading the landmark Universal Health Care Bill which seeks to guarantee equal access to quality and affordable health services for all Filipinos.

Senate Bill 1896, or the Universal Health care for all Filipinos Act, was approved with a 14-0 vote with no abstention.

The proposed measure seeks to institute reforms in the mandates, responsibilities and jurisdiction of agencies that implement the country’s universal health care program, such as the Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and local government units (LGUs).

Under the bill, all Filipino citizens, including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will automatically be enrolled into the PhilHealth, whether as direct contributor (those who have the capacity to pay premiums) or indirect contributor (those sponsored by the government like the indigents, senior citizens, among others).

For indirect contributors, premium subsidy shall be included annually in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).

PhilHealth coverage would also be expanded to include free consultation fees, laboratory tests and other diagnostic services.

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.

The DOH has pegged doctor-to-patient ratio at 1 is to 33,000 while bed to population ratio was pegged at 1 is to 1,121.

In Metro Manila, the bed to population ratio is 1 is to 591 while bed to population ratio in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao is 1 is 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.

Senators lauded the passage of the Universal Health Care bill, saying its enactment would ensure that all Filipinos would have fair access to quality and affordable health care without the financial burden.

Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, the measure’s principal sponsor, thanked his colleagues for their all-out support in passing the bill.

“It is not often that we pass landmark legislations like the UHC bill. I am proud and happy of the passage of this landmark legislation,” Ejercito said in his manifestation speech.

Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros, co-sponsor of the bill, said the passage of the measure will address once and for all the 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.

“With the passage of this landmark measure, we deliver a very important piece of legislation to our people,” she said.

“It is also a special victory for the Senate as we celebrate its 102nd anniversary,” Hontiveros added.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, meanwhile, noted that the end objective of the bill is to stop Filipino families from being “one sickness away from financial bankruptcy.”

“(What we wanted is) for all of them to have access to affordable and quality health care, that will not only cure them, but above all, prevent them from being sick,” he said in his explanatory statement.

“Ito pong batas na ito ay isang reseta na lulunas sa maraming sakit ng ating sistemang pangkalusugan (This bill is the prescription that will solve the many illnesses plaguing our health system),” Recto said.

On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon expressed the minority’s elation over the passage of the universal health care bill.

“We have crossed party lines to find universality in health care,” he said in his own manifestation speech.

He also took the opportunity to push for the restoration of the PHP30-billion cut in the proposed 2019 of the DOH budget.

“It is both ironic and sad that as we push this legislation, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has found it necessary to chop off billions in pesos in our national budget," he said.

“It is sad to note that we still see the PHP30-billion cut in the DOH budget which puts in danger 15,000 health workers, nurses principally,” Drilon added.

It is for this reason, Drilon said that he introduced an amendment in the UHC bill to make all health personnel permanent.

The amendment was carried and incorporated in the final Senate version.

“The reason is that we cannot succeed in our dream of adequate health care unless we have enough health workers to provide the services so necessary,” he said.

It is also for this reason that the minority would not permit the passage of the DOH budget without the restoration of the PHP30-billion cut, he added. (PNA)