Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go believes that a concerted cooperation and whole-of-country approach by all sectors are necessary to realize the vision of a universal health care coverage even as the country’s health insurance sector continues to weather the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

In a hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law held Tuesday, June 16, Go urged fellow legislators and stakeholders to carefully study possible amendments to the UHC Law and its implementing rules and regulations while taking into consideration the new challenges created by the pandemic. The Senator, who is also chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, stressed that “[a]ny amendment should not be at the expense of providing universal health care for all”.

“Habang iniisip natin ang sarili nating kapakanan, isipin rin natin ang pangkalahatang benepisyo ng Universal Health Care Law sa lahat ng Pilipino. At ang layunin natin na masama lahat ng Pilipino sa isang matatag na health care insurance program. Pare-pareho naman tayo ng gusto. Importante, magtulungan at magbayanihan tayo,” he said.

“Again, let me reiterate, sa panahon ngayon, kailangang balansehin ang pangangailangan para mapaganda ang mga programang pangkalusugan, at ang epekto ng krisis sa kakayahan ng mga Pilipinong magbigay ng dagdag na kontribusyon,” Go continued, expressing sympathy for Filipinos who, he also noted, are struggling to afford their insurance payment.

“Lahat welcome dito. Andito kami para pakinggan ang hinaing ng lahat ng Pilipino,” he reiterated during the hearing attended by several stakeholders and government officials.

Go reminded the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., the lead agency in the implementation of the UHC Law, to consider the precarious financial situation of its contributors, many of whom lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 global crisis. Also affected are thousands of overseas Filipino workers, many of them had been and others are being repatriated after losing their jobs abroad.

PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales pointed out that the government’s health insurance agency is struggling to cover its beneficiaries’ benefits, particularly the premium of its indirect contributors, after it received a P71.3-billion subsidy under the 2020 General Appropriations Act as opposed to the P153 billion it had originally proposed.

Despite this, the Senator said such constraints should not prevent Filipinos from seeking government assistance for their medical bills. He reassured the public, particularly PhilHealth beneficiaries and OFWs, that they can still receive additional assistance from any of the 71 existing Malasakit Centers found around the country. A Malasakit Center is a one-stop shop where indigent and financially challenged patients can conveniently request for medical and financial assistance from four government agencies now housed under one roof.

“One stop-shop po ito. Pwede kayo humingi ng tulong sa DSWD, magkakatabing lamesa lang po iyon sa isang kuwarto, pati po ang DOH at PCSO to help you sa inyong billing. Lalong lalo na po sa mga cases na hindi totally covered ng PhilHealth dahil nagkaroon ng komplikasyon ang pasyente,” said Go, who is the principal author of the Malasakit Center Act of 2019.

Go continued that he would push for a higher subsidy for PhilHealth in order to ensure the proper implementation of the UHC Law. He appealed to the Department of Budget and Management to study options to raise the agency’s annual budget from the P71 billion it advised.

“Nangako tayo, inaprubahan ng Kongreso ang UHC law, lalong lalo na sa mahihirap nating kababayan na umaasang sasagutin po ng PhilHeath ang kanilang pangangailangan pagdating sa kalusugan,” said Go.

“Ako po ay nananawagan sa mga economic managers na pagtuunan ito ng pansin. Napakaimportante po ng PhilHealth sa atin at sa health care system. Gawan dapat ng paraan na taasan ang subsidy sa PhilHealth para mas mapagaan ang burden sa ordinaryong tao. Now more than ever, dapat ma-prioritize ang health. We must do what we can to ensure that every Filipino can have access to universal health care for all.”

During the seven-hour long joint congressional oversight committee hearing, Go also asked Morales to address reports that the government’s health insurance agency continued to require overseas Filipino workers to pay premium contributions before they could obtain an Overseas Employment Certificate. The provision, remarked the Senator, is not found in the UHC Law and its implementation was suspended by President Rodrigo Duterte after recognizing the dire financial situation of the OFWs.

Morales clarified that an advisory was issued last June 11 informing OFWs that the premium payments shall be voluntary for the duration of the pandemic.

“Under the law, every Filipino shall be automatically included in the National Health Insurance Program, either as a direct or indirect contributor. This is to protect people from the financial risk of paying for health services out of their own pockets and reduce the risk that people will be pushed into poverty,” explained the Senator.

“We want to eliminate the idea of health care as an entitlement and as a privilege of the few who can afford to pay,” he said further.

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