Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III at the Duterte Legacy Summit on Tuesday (May 31, 2022) (PNA photo by Avito Dalan) 

MANILA – The reforms to the health care system under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte are people-centered.

Amid the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the government continued the realization of the Universal Health Care (UHC) law and establishments of more Malasakit Centers.

“The Duterte administration’s term from July 2016 to 2022 brought forth many reforms in the health sector, especially with the passage of the Universal Health Care Act and the Malasakit Centers Act,” Duque said Tuesday during the Duterte Legacy Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

Duterte signed into law the UHC or Republic Act No. 11223 on Feb. 20, 2019, paving the way for the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) “to embark on a major health reform” in the country.

Among the salient features of the UHC law are the expansion of population, service, and financial coverage through an array of health system amendments. Along with this is a planned paradigm shift to primary care, which is the core and center of all health reforms under the UHC.

With the UHC Act, all Filipinos are guaranteed equitable access to quality and affordable health care goods and services, and protected against financial risk.

The UHC helps ensure every Filipino is healthy, protected from health hazards and risks, and has access to affordable, quality, and readily available health services suitable to their needs.

Duque said pandemic responses expedited several UHC-related initiatives.

“These initiatives further strengthened the integration of our local health systems into province-wide and city-wide health systems,” he added. 

Reforms

From the enactment of the UHC Act and the promulgation of its implementing rules and regulations, Duque said the DOH developed 60 critical policies and operational guidelines that are essential for the implementation of the law.

Compiled policies include administrative orders, department orders, and joint issuance with other government agencies and entities “all geared toward the progressive realization of UHC for every Juan and Juana in the areas of service delivery, health systems integration, health regulation, health financing, and governance accountability”, Duque added.

The DOH also ensured engagements and close coordination with local government units (LGUs) and other relevant national agencies, which are critical to the success of the UHC.

Duque said 17 tripartite agreements were sealed among LGUs, DOH, and PhilHealth to create UHC Integration Sites.

“These formalized the engagement of LGUs in transforming their local health systems into province-wide and city-wide health systems,” he added.

The DOH developed the local health systems maturity levels “to guide and capacitate” LGUs in the implementation of UHC.

With this, LGUs achieved significant progress in their readiness from 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

To further promote UHC among stakeholders, the DOH developed a series of e-modules accessible through the DOH Academy.

It also developed health promotion playbooks to serve as ready-to-use tools for LGUs in implementing health promotion interventions and to assist thealth care at the local level.

Duque said the UHC Act mandated the automatic enrollment of all Filipinos in the National Health Insurance Program under PhilHealth.

“This is part of our commitment to ensure protection against financial risk for every Filipino, moving towards greater equity,” he added.

Duque reported that over 111 million are covered by the National Health Insurance Program.

Under the Duterte administration, the DOH improved its provision of service delivery through its health infrastructure projects for primary care facilities as the first point of contact in the health care system.

Infra projects

Through the DOH’s Health Facilities Enhancement Program, the government funded the development of 7,796 Barangay Health Stations; 3,259 Rural Health Units; and 34 polyclinics.

Under the same program, DOH completed the establishment of 1,798 LGU hospitals and 639 DOH hospitals, including 14 quarantine facilities; 34 treatment and rehabilitation centers; seven regional offices; and other National Government Agencies programs.

“Despite the ongoing pandemic, we have scaled up several UHC programs to augment and support LGU capacity in delivering health services,” Duque said.

The DOH intensified the deployment of Human Resources for Health to priority areas including the Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas through the National Health Workforce Support System, with an average of 27,400 human resources per year deployed to underserved LGUs from 2017 until 2021.

The DOH launched its telemedicine service program which played a big role in delivering accessible health care service during the ongoing pandemic.

“This program was launched in 2020 and has already attended to more than 379,900 consultations. Ang laki po ng tulong nito (This was a huge help), especially during times of surge, and this is one of the services that was made possible by our One Hospital Command Center which is a component of the National Patient Navigation and Referral System,” Duque said.

The health chief cited that telemedicine consultation will greatly help bedridden patients as they will no longer need to travel from their homes to the hospitals. 

“This is not just the future but the future is here today with our expanded telemedicine capacity, precisely to improve access by our people for the different levels of healthcare services,” he said.

“Usually it starts with teleconsultation and from there we will find out, we can assess the clinical condition of the patient, and eventually refer them to the most appropriate level of care under our National Patient Navigation and Referral System,” he added.

Affordable treatment, cheaper meds

By virtue of the Republic Act No. 9502 or the Universally Accessible, Cheaper, and Quality Medicines Act and the UHC Act, Duque reported the maximum retail price of certain drugs and medicines was adjusted to reflect their exemption from the value-added tax.

“The maximum retail price is the price cap of medicines given to the customers, which means that our essential medicines can now be accessed at a much cheaper price. Maraming, maraming salamat po kay (Thank you very much to) President Rodrigo Roa Duterte,” Duque said.

Duque said Duterte made sure that Filipinos, especially those with maintenance medicines, will get quality, effective, and safe medicines.

The Maximum Retail Price regulation, Duque noted, reduced by up to 93 percent the price of medicines for top-burden diseases.

“Truly impactful for our people. And this continuously benefits special population groups, such as patients with chronic kidney disease and liver transplantees, among others,” he said.

Public health milestones

“We also achieved milestones in the public health programs. One of such is the successful conduct of the ‘Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio’ in 2019 to 2020 despite the limitations brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Duque said, noting that 95 percent of the target pediatric population was immunized against polio by the first quarter of 2020.

Duque also highlighted Republic Act 11463 or the Malasakit Centers Act, signed into law on Dec. 3, 2019, which aims to streamline access to “people-centered care,” and create a one-stop-shop for patient navigation and referral to health care provider networks as well as a point of service for indigent persons availing of financial and medical assistance.

A total of 151 Malasakit Centers have been established at DOH-run hospitals as of May 26.

Duque said  over 3.6 million patients have availed of the Medical Assistance to Indigent Patient Program through the Malasakit Program Office from January 2018 to December 2021.

“These accomplishments are a testament to the commitment of the DOH in its pursuit of the realization of UHC Act. Gradually, the reforms we have set are paving the way to improve the health system in the Philippines, placing every Juan and Juana at the center of it all,” he said. “It has been my great honor to be of service in creating this new legacy for Filipinos and it is my prayer that we continue to walk the path toward true people-centered care.” (PNA)