On Wednesday, 10 October 2018, the Philippine Senate passed a measure that was designed to give Filipinos access to decent and affordable healthcare services. Labeled Senate Bill 1896 or the Universal Health Care Bill, it was approved with a 14-0 vote.
SB 1896 seeks to automatically enroll all Filipino citizens into a National Health Insurance program under three categories:
Contributory. These pertain to citizens who can afford to pay health premiums;
Non-Contributory. As its name suggests, this category is the opposite of the previous item on this list. Under the Universal Health Care Bill, the Philippine government will subsidize their premiums;
Sponsored. This category includes indigents and senior citizens.
The Philippine House of Representatives passed a version of the Universal Health Care Bill (House Bill No. 5784) in September of the previous year, so a bicameral conference committee will be convened to reconcile the provisions from both bills before the measure officially becomes law.
The Senate’s version of the Universal Health Care Bill, for instance, contains additional provisions:
Expansion of the Philippine Health Insurance System’s (Philhealth) coverage to include free consultation fees, laboratory tests, and other diagnostic services;
Inclusion of premium Philhealth subsidies into the government’s annual budget;
Provision of primary health services to Filipinos without Philhealth cards.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque also announced that Service Delivery Networks would be established to provide all Filipinos with primary health care, referring to the bill’s aims to connect health services and referrals in provinces and cities and to establish more hospitals in remote areas.
By calling for reforms in the mandate, responsibilities, and jurisdiction of all the government agencies that will be involved in implementing the UHC bill’s provisions, namely the Department of Health (DOH), Philhealth, and local government units (LGU’s), the bill also intends to improve the doctor-patient ratio and to increase the number of hospital beds and equipment in public hospitals.
Furthermore, once the bill becomes law, everyone who graduates from health-related courses in state universities and colleges along with government-funded scholarship programs will be required to complete at least three (3) years of mandatory government service.
The Philippine healthcare system is a long way off from being at par with the world’s top-notch public health systems, such as Australia’s Medicare, but it’s a comfort to know that we’re somehow taking steps to get there.