Last Wednesday (February 20), President Rodrigo R. Duterte of the Philippines officially signed the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act into law, which guarantees equitable access to quality and affordable healthcare services for all Filipinos. It will also automatically enroll Filipino citizens into the National Health Insurance Program and expand PhilHealth coverage to include free medical consultations and laboratory tests.
Aside from the automatic enrollment of all Filipinos to PhilHealth, other significant reforms that will be implemented over time include: designating PhilHealth as the national purchaser for health goods and services for individuals, such as medicines; improvement of health facilities especially in underserved areas; responding to the gap in health workers throughout the country; strategic engagement of the private sector; and creating and expanding new functions in the Department of Health (DOH) to improve the delivery of health services, according to an official statement by the DOH.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the UHC program may be implemented “gradually” since Congress has yet to draft a final bill raising tobacco taxes.
Last month, the House Committee on Health in the Philippines House of Representatives chaired by Rep. Angelina Tan approved a substitute bill seeking to establish the National eHealth Systems and Services that shall deliver health services through cost-effective and secure information and communications technology (ICT).
The bill seeks to utilise ICT to deliver health services which has the potential to be profitable, improve quality, change the conditions of practice, and improve access to healthcare, especially in rural and other medically underserved areas.
With the approval of the National eHealth System and Services Act and UHC being signed into law, the Philippines has a monumental task of delivering accessible, quality healthcare services to all its 105 million citizens. Some have criticised the UHC as a political gimmick but the true challenge for its successful delivery cannot rely on the sole commitment of state authorities: it must also seek the cooperation and collaboration from private healthcare players and even tap on the capabilities on the burgeoning health tech industry.