Health not priority under Aquino’s 2013 budget

“Once charity patients from indigent families without PhilHealth coverage are turned away from public hospitals, many will be forced to simply wait for death even if they are suffering from what originally were treatable diseases.”

By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus is fuming mad. According to the staunch women’s rights activist and lawmaker, the Benigno Aquino III administration is deliberately and perhaps even spitefully ignoring the welfare of the Filipino poor when it crafted its budget proposal for 2013.

De Jesus cited in particular the Aquino government’s 2013 budget proposal for the Department of Health.

“The P56.8 billion ($1.35 billion) proposed 2013 DOH budget dismally falls short of the World Health Organization’s recommended budgetary allocation of five percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for public health. It represents a mere 1.89 percent of the GDP registered by the National Economic Development Agency for the third quarter of 2011. The Aquino administration’s intention to spend no more than P0.62 ($0.014) per Filipino in 2013 without doubt constitutes a violent attack against the Filipino people’s right to health,” de Jesus said.

De Jesus said the already sorry situation is exacerbated by the fact that the increase in the DOH-proposed budget will only go to PhilHealth.

“The Philhealth system can never replace a genuine universal health care system, especially in a society where poor families can ill afford to feed their families more than twice a day, let alone pay for the PhilHealth premiums. The PhilHealth card is also useless in poorly provisioned public hospitals,” De Jesus said.

According to De Jesus, the health budget will actually be taken from the pockets of Philhealth’s beneficiaries – some 5.2 million impoverished Filipinos.

“If one thinks of it, it’s the poor who are being forced to shell out money for the DOH budget, but they are also the same ones who are the primary victims of the government’s policy of making public health unaffordable and inaccessible because of privatization schemes,” she said.

The Gabriela representative went on to decry what she said as the Aquino government’s intensification of privatization in the public health care system through PhilHealth and Private-Public-Partnership (PPP) schemes. In line with the administration’s PPP framework, charity wards in public hospitals will be phased out starting in 2013.

Based on 2006 government data, charity beds number 42,997 in 703 government hospitals.

“Once charity patients from indigent families without PhilHealth coverage are turned away from public hospitals, many will be forced to simply wait for death even if they are suffering from what originally were treatable diseases,” she said.

De Jesus argued that instead of increasing the 2013 budget for Philhealth, the Aquino government should allocate funds to increase threefold the number of public health workers to provide service to more than 50 million Filipinos in need of free and accessible health services.

“The government should spend for the upgrading of public hospital facilities and equipment; and ensure the availability of medicines, health workers and doctors in barangay health centers especially in remotest areas, to better cater to the health needs of the marginalized.
Because of consistently worsening poverty, rising unemployment and increasing cost of basic commodities, healthcare has taken a backseat in the spending priority for many women and their families. The Aquino government continue to institutionalize the abandonment of healthcare, worsening the already tragic and desperate conditions of the poor,” she said.

Philhealth not equal to universal health care

Bayan Muna Rep.Teddy Casiño also reacted against the government’s plan to phase out charity wards in 2013, saying that it was “grossly inhumane.”

Casiño said that six out of 10 Filipinos die without having any medical attention, based on Asian Development Bank Country Partnership Strategy: Philippines (2011-2016). He said the situation may worsen as most patients cannot afford the increasing charges in government hospitals.

In agreement with Gabriela’s De Jesus, Casiño said nearly half of health care costs are paid out-of-pocket. “Even those covered by PhilHealth have to pay out of their pockets. Given the limited package and coverage of PhilHeath, the poor will be further disenfranchised of the right to health. Compared to other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines has one of the highest out-of-pocket share at 54.7 percent and one of the lowest government share at only 34.7 percent,” he said.

“Replacing charity wards with ‘PhilHealth wards’ is actually making the people pay for health services themselves. The government is trying to justify its decreasing allotment to public hospitals and the privatization of public health services. Instead of adequately funding people’s health, it is transferring the burden of health financing to the people,” Casiño said.

The lawmaker also said that 84 percent of the total P33.2 billion ($785 million) PhilHealth premium collections in 2011 were paid by private and government employees.

“PhilHealth in fact wants a 100 percent hike in the premium payments of individually-paying members and employees; and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) starting in October 2012 and January 2013, respectively. This is extremely wrong. It is government’s responsibility to allot adequate funds for public health spending, ” he said.()

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  1. Health insurance schemes like PhilHealth are expected to address the increasing inequity between the rich and the poor. However, removing charity wards will only make equity and access to health care for all Filipinos a more elusive goal.

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