By Camille A. Aguinaldo, Reporter
THE SENATE on Wednesday passed on third and final reading the universal health care bill, which will provide automatic inclusion of all Filipinos in the National Health Insurance Program of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), including overseas Filipino workers.
Senate Bill No. 1896 was approved with 14 affirmative votes, no negative vote, and no abstention. It has been identified by the Legislative Executive Development Council (LEDAC) as among the priority measures of Congress.
If signed into law, all Filipino citizens will be automatically enrolled in PhilHealth whether as director contributor or indirect contributor (those sponsored by the government, such as indigents, senior citizens, among others). They can avail themselves of primary healthcare services even without the PhilHealth identification cards. PhilHealth services will be extended to free consultation fees, laboratory tests, and other diagnostic services.
According to Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto, one of the authors of the bill, the funds collected from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCor), the incremental sin tax collections, and the sugar tax would be pooled for universal health care.
“There is no greater winning combination than using casino income for cure. It is better for our health institutions to direct where funds must go than for state gaming bodies to triage who will receive help or not,” Mr. Recto said in a statement.
The proposed measure will set up a healthcare provider network that will allow every Filipino to register and have his or her own primary care provider.
It will also provide an inventory of health professionals to determine the actual gap and needs for a specific health profession, and a mechanism for public health care providers to improve their facilities and equipment by means of financial subsidies to make them ready to shift into network-base health care delivery system.
The proposed measure also requires all graduates of health-related courses from state universities and colleges or government-funded scholarship programs to serve for at least three years in the public sector.
“Medical expenses will no longer be a problem because every Filipino will automatically be a member of PhilHealth,” said Senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito, chair of the Senate committee on health and demography.
“This is a giant step in our effort to equalize health care service delivery for all Filipinos. Its universal fulfillment is a step towards eradicating inequality,” said Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel, co-sponsor and co-author of the bill, in a statement.
House passed its version of the bill on Sept. 6, 2017.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said in part, “We thank the Senate for passing on third and final reading the landmark Universal Health Care Bill.”
He added: “On a personal level, the Universal Health Care Bill is close to me, for I was the principal author of the House version of the bill. I consider this measure ground-breaking because beneficiaries will be entitled to health coverage simply by virtue of their citizenship as Filipinos.”