PHILHEALTH President Ricardo Morales admits that nationwide implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law will take a few years to take effect, citing funding and capability issues.

During PhilHealth’s “Kapihan with Media” on Friday, Mr. Morales said the full implementation of the UHC Law could be “in three years” or more. The UHC Law mandates that all Filipinos will be members and beneficiaries of PhilHealth.

“Since we still do not have the budget, it will be a gradual rollout, I think three to six years. In other countries, when they launched their national health service like in UK, Taiwan… it was not a grand opening… they grew it over several years until it was 100% (coverage). Ganun din ’yung atin (It will also be like that with us). We will start with 33 sites,” he said.

During the budget hearing of the Department of Health (DoH) in Congress last Wednesday, the health department said that it will only implement the UHC law in 28 provinces and five cities in its first year of implementation next year. These 33 identified implementation sites are: Valenzuela, Parañaque, Dagupan City, Baguio, Benguet, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Bataan, Tarlac, Batangas, Quezon, Oriental Mindoro, Masbate, Sorsogon, Aklan, Antique, Guimaras, Iloilo, Cebu province, Biliran, Leyte, Samar, Zamboanga del Norte, Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental, Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Sarangani, South Cotobato, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, and Maguindanao.

This gradual implementation was met with a backlash as some lawmakers in the lower house said it defeated the purpose of the universal coverage promised by the UHC Law on availing of benefits from the state-owned health insurance organization especially in regions that lack health facilities and resources.

The DoH’s proposed budget for 2020 is P160.15 billion. The health department earlier said that it need P257 billion to fully implement the UHC Law in its first year.

Mr. Morales also noted that besides the limited budget, lack of personnel in PhilHealth is also a factor why the UHC Law won’t be fully implemented immediately. Currently, PhilHealth employs 6,000 workers of which, Mr. Morales said, only half are in plantilla positions. Lack of facilities is also another issue.

“Funding is one problem, the other one is the absorptive capacity of the organization. We have to recruit more people, put up more local health insurance offices and health offices,” he said.

The UHC Law was signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Feb. 20 with DoH having a timeline of six months to draft the implementing rules and regulations (IRR). Mr. Morales said that the IRR will be released in September. — Gillian M. Cortez