Health care spending seen lagging economic growth

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HEALTH CARE expenditure in the Philippines is not keeping up with economic growth, according to a consultant engaged by the European Union to monitor programs supported by the bloc.

“Despite the steady growth of GDP and overall government and private spending on health, there is no major increase of THE (total health expenditure) as percentage of GDP,” said Giovanni Cascone of IBF International Consulting, who prepared a report on two Philippine health programs supported financially by the EU.

During his presentation at the Manila Hotel on Monday, Mr. Cascone added that health funding as a share of GDP increased to 4.5% in 2017 from 4.2% in 2010.

“[This] raises concerns about equity, equality, access to health care and financial protection, as well as impact of BS (budget support) programmes and overall progress towards UHC (universal health care) goals,” according to Mr. Cascone’s presentation.

The finding was part of the final evaluation of the EU-supported Health Sector Policy Support Programme — Phase II and the Philippine Health Sector Reform Contract. Both were completed last year.

The two programs took in 55 million euros worth of direct support, nearly half of the 118 million euros (P7. 2 billion) of the EU’s total financial support provided to the health care system between 2006 and 2018.

The two programs aimed to support the recently signed Universal Health Care Act and health-related millennium development goals, most of which had been achieved, according to IBF.

“The two programmes have achieved the most of their goals to satisfaction of the key stakeholders and development partners,” according to the presentation.

Mr. Cascone said priorities shift with every change in government, delaying funding for the program.

“There are more risks in terms of delay especially in a situation where the administration changes. Not only change, but the fact that the Philippines has a spoils system. It comes with changes to high ranking officials, whose priorities change a bit,” Mr. Cascone added.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Philippine Representative Gundo Weiler said he hopes the proposed increase tobacco and alcohol taxes generate revenue for health care while also discouraging unhealthy practices.

In the Philippines the average price for medications and drugs is about three to four times the international drug reference price, according to Mr. Weiler.

He added that in some cases Philippine consumers pay 10 times more the international reference price.

The EU Delegation’s Ambassador Franz Jessen said the EU will continue its support in the country’s health sector.

“The closure of these programmes does not mean that the EU stops supporting the sector in the Philippines. We will continue to support the health sector in the Philippines through multilateral instruments,” Mr. Jessen said in his speech yesterday.

The EU support outlined in the current multiannual indicative plan amounts to about P15 billion (or 255 million euros) and focuses on long-term support for “rule of law” through the Justice Sector Coordination Council and by providing comprehensive support to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority; peace-building in Mindanao; and inclusive growth through access to sustainable energy and job creation. — Janina C. Lim