By Camille A. Aguinaldo
THE UNIVERSAL health care (UHC) bill, which provides automatic inclusion of all Filipinos in the government’s National Health Insurance Program, hurdled the bicameral conference committee level on Tuesday.
If signed into law, the bill will allow all Filipinos to be enrolled under the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) as direct or indirect contributors. Under the proposed measure, the PhilHealth ID is no longer needed for beneficiaries to avail themselves of such health benefits.
In a statement, Senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito, chair of the Senate committee on health, said a provision was approved which provides the funding of the universal health care program from the incremental sin tax collections and 50% of the national government share from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCor).
Other sources of funding include the 40% Charity fund, net of documentary stamp tax payment, mandatory contributions of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), premium contributions of PhilHealth members, annual appropriations of the Department of Health (DoH), and the national government subsidy to PhilHealth under the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Under the bill, PhilHealth’s primary care benefit package will now include medical examinations, medicines for basic conditions, and laboratory tests.
Patients are also given the freedom to choose his or her primary health care provider, whether public or private.
The bicameral panel also agreed to provide additional benefits for paying members as incentive for the increase in premium rate.
“The additional benefits will incentivize those who pay higher premiums and will encourage those who are voluntarily paying to keep paying,” Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto, principal author of the bill, said in a statement.
The proposed measure also provides a gradual premium rate increase of .5% a year and gradual adjustment of income ceiling by P10,000 a year.
An income retention provision was also introduced in the bill, which will create a special health fund sourced from PhilHealth payments for local hospitals. The fund will be used to improve the health facilities and health service delivery of the local government units (LGUs).
The bill also creates a Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC), which is tasked to study and make recommendations to the DoH and PhilHealth on developing policies in health insurance.
It also requires graduates of health-related courses with government scholarships to work for the government for three years.
Mr. Ejercito said he hoped the measure will be signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte by Christmas and will be implemented next year so the benefits will be felt right away.
“We want to change that mentality that many Filipinos who are sick haven’t consulted with a doctor because of fear of the expenses,” he told reporters.
By Camille A. Aguinaldo