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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Private Hospitals' Threat - No Longer Honor PhilHealth

The president of a group of more than 900 private hospitals on Wednesday said his group would no longer honor cards from Philippine Health Insurance Corp. if the state-owned company would not pay more than P2 billion it owed its members.

Rustico Jimenez, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, said the government’s plan to phase out charity wards in public hospitals and enroll “the poorest of the poor” instead under PhilHealth was unsustainable given the state insurance company’s huge debt to its member hospitals. "PhilHealth has simply ignored our pleas for them to settle their obligations" Jimenez, a co-owner of the Parañaque Medical Center, said in a phone interview. "We have been exacting payments from them for a long time."

Earlier, Health officials led by Secretary Enrique Ona and PhilHealth president and chief executive Eduardo Banzon said they were getting closer to President Benigno Aquino III's goal of universal health care for all. But Jimenez said PhilHealth's debts accumulated over the years could be even higher than the P2-billion estimate despite its reserves of more than P100 billion. Testifying at Wednesday's joint oversight hearing on public expenditure in Senate, Banzon said PhilHealth had P107 billion in reserves at the end of May, although its premium collection was only P13 billion or lower than the P16.9- billion payout.

Jimenez, who revealed the extent of PhilHealth's debt in a radio interview, asked what the government was doing with those reserves, which were at the same level in December 2011. "Are these only for the SONA?" he said (obviously YES), referring to the yearly State-of-the-Nation Address in which the President enumerates the government's achievements. Jimenez said the Philippine Hospital Association faced the same problem but would not speak up because some of its members are government hospitals. Jimenez said Mr. Aquino's universal health care was a good program, but it needed to be properly funded.

In a separate interview, Philippine Medical Association vice president Leo Olarte said the government shouldn’t pass the buck when it came to its obligation to provide free medical services to the poor. He said it was wrong to phase out the charity wards in state-run hospitals next year. "Not all Filipinos are covered by PhilHealth," said Olarte who confirmed that there were hospitals and even doctors who had not yet been paid by PhilHeatlh for services rendered.

On Wednesday, Sean Velchez, lead convenor of the Network Opposed to Privatization, expressed outrage over Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa's announcement that the charity wards in public hospitals would be phased out next year. Velchez disputed the government's claim that the poor patients would not be made to pay. "Poor patients are forced to shell out hard-earned cash to pay for medicines and laboratory fees even in public hospitals even though they are PhilHealth members," Velchez said. He said PhilHealth coverage was very limited and covered only a fraction of a patient's hospital bill. He said PhilHealth's claim that it had 5.2- million poor beneficiaries enrolled was less than half of the estimated 11.1 million poor families in the country.

The group held a conference against privatization Wednesday at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila. During the conference, health workers, health professionals, students and patients challenged President Aquino to immediately stop the privatization of government hospitals and health services, fulfill the state’s responsibility to provide for the health of its people, and allocate 5 percent of the gross domestic product or P487 billion for health. Julie Caguiat, another convenor of the group, described as deceptive the Health Department’s explanation that PhilHealth would take care of the poor.

Many Filipinos were still not covered by PhilHealth, and those who were had limited coverage that was good for only 20 to 30 percent of their total hospital expenses, she said. Lawmakers on Wednesday questioned the Aquino administration’s plan to phase out charity wards. "Why spend P12.6 billion for the distribution of PhilHealth cards when the same amount can be allocated to public hospitals, rural health units and barangay health centers so that they can directly provide services to indigents for free?" Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said. She also raised the possibility that the PhilHealth cards would be used to win votes in next year's mid-term elections.

The Palace will submit its proposed P2.006- trillion national budget for 2013 next week. Under its budget proposal, the Health Department is asking for P56.8 billion of which P12.6 billion would go to PhilHealth premiums covering 5.2 million households. Ilagan slammed what she called the Aquino administration's skewed priorities. "President Aquino's thrust towards the privatization of government hospitals inevitably makes health services unaffordable, making it extremely difficult for poor families to access health services," Ilagan said. Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy Casiño also assailed the government's plan to phase out the charity wards. "Phasing out charity wards is grossly inhumane," he said. "This will displace the poor patients, especially those who are not covered by the PhilHealth sponsored program."

Government data show there are 42,997 charity beds in 703 government hospitals. Casiño, citing an Asian Development Bank report, said six out of 10 Filipinos were dying without having any medical attention. "This situation may worsen since most patients cannot afford the increasing charges in government hospitals," he said, adding that nearly half of all health care costs were paid out-of-pocket. "Even those covered by PhilHealth have to pay out of their pockets. Given the limited coverage of PhilHeath, the poor will be further disenfranchised of the right to health." Compared to the other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines had one of the highest out-of-pocket expenses of 54.7 percent and one of the lowest government expenses at only 34.7 percent, Casiño said. "Replacing charity wards with 'PhilHealth wards' is actually making the people pay for health services themselves," he said. "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."

Sources & Image Credit: Manila Standard & Everything in Budget


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