In the year 2010, the new Philippine president at that time, President Benigno Aquino III, unveiled his Health Agenda of achieving universal health care for all Filipinos. Under this program, all Filipinos would be provided with access to basic health care through the enrollment of every Filipino to PhilHealth, the national health insurance program. Workers and taxpayers pay a monthly premium to PhilHealth and are automatically enrolled. A PhilHealth member is entitled to free medical consultation in government hospitals, subsidized rates for hospital rooms, laboratory procedures and operations in government hospitals and discounts in private hospitals.
The problem is that majority of Filipinos are working in informal livelihood sectors (vending stores for example) or employed on a contractual/seasonal basis, thus, they are not able to pay their health insurance premiums. The bigger problem is the fact that the PhilHealth might go bankrupt in the next seven years if the government fails to pay its P19.2 billion debt to the agency. To prevent this from happening, PhilHealth increased premium contributions for new members from P300 to P600 quarterly or a total of P2, 400 in one year starting next month. This scenario made it difficult for informal and contractual workers to enroll. Also, since the government still has a 19.2 billion peso debt, they are unable to fulfill their promise of universal health care for all Filipinos.
Civil societies and non-government organization in the Philippines often jokingly say that the Philippines has a sick healthcare system. Most poor Filipinos get medical care and attention from government hospitals because of its cheaper rates. In the recent report released by the government, the country has 1,794 hospitals with 83,941 beds nationwide. Only 648 or 36% of these hospitals are government-owned while the remaining 1,146 hospitals or 64% are privately owned. This means that for every 10,000 Filipinos, there are only 11.2 hospital beds available. Hospital stays in public hospitals are cheaper, but the medicines have high prices making it very hard for poor Filipinos to get sufficient medical treatment for their illnesses.
Aside from hospitals, there are other medical establishments in the country. The Philippines’ Department of Health states in their recent state of the nation report that there are 2,905 rural health units and 14, 267 community health stations in the entire country. There are over 42,000 communities/villages in the Philippines. Doctors and nurses would visit these rural health units while midwives or nurses would visit the community health units at least once a week.
These are well and good on paper, but unfortunately rural health centers and community health units experience scarcity on medical supplies and equipments. Medical manpower is also lacking as there are only 2,848 doctors, 1,713 dentists, 4,389 nurses and 14,962 midwives manning a total of 17,172 community health units and 648 public hospitals. Medical manpower is at an all-time low because health professionals opt to work in foreign countries where the pay is better than languish in tasking medical work in Philippine government hospitals and health centers.
In 2011, the government’s spending for healthcare constituted 3.4% of the country’s Gross National Product – way below the 5% standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO) for developing countries. As a result, not only is the healthcare system bad, but health programs that provide free medicines, vitamins and medical consultations to the indigent are not prioritized and not implemented, making the poor people like HBI beneficiaries even more vulnerable.