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House OKs universal healthcare coverage for Filipinos

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on third and final reading a measure that would provide universal healthcare coverage for all Filipinos, one of the priority legislation of the government.

With a vote of 222 in the affirmative, seven in the negative and zero abstentions, the chamber approved House Bill 5784, which, if enacted into law, will be named the "Universal Health Coverage Act."

Under the bill, it is declared as a policy of the State to protect and promote the right of every Filipino to health.

"Towards this end, the State shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health and development and endeavor to provide every Filipino healthy living conditions and access to needed cost-effective and quality promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services, without suffering financial hardship when obtaining them," the bill read.

Under the measure, every Filipino will be automatically included in the National Health Security Program, which entitles them to all its benefits, including inpatient, outpatient and emergency care services encompassing preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative care for medical, dental and mental health services.

Other salient features of the bill include simplifying PhilHealth membership into two groups — contributory, or premium contributions from payroll, and all others as non-contributory — and classifying entitlements into population-based and individual-based healthcare interventions.

Congressmen who voted against the approval of the bill were members of the Makabayan bloc, including ACT Teachers party-list Representatives Antonio Tinio and France Castro, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, Gabriela Women's Party Rep. Emmi De Jesus and Arlene Brosas,  Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao and Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Jane Elago.

In explaining his vote, Tinio noted that that passage of the bill would only further privatize and commercialize the healthcare system.

"Sa ilalim ng panukalang batas na ito, tatanggalan na po ng MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses) ang mga public hospitals at iaasa na lamang ang buong kita nila sa mga reimburment mula sa PhilHealth," he said.

"Sa ganitong modelo po ay ganap nang naging commercialized ang operasyon ng mga public hospitals at malinaw na sa pamamagitan ng batas na ito hindi makakamit ang layunin ng milyon-milyong mga kababayan nating Pilipino lalo na ang maralita para sa isang libreng sistemang pangkalusugan para sa bawat Pilipino," he added.

Casilao, on the other hand, pointed out that the bill allows health providers to treat healthcare as a form of "insurance."

"Hindi po ito ang health services na nilalayon ng kinatawang ito na magkaroon ang ating gobyerno. Maraming pera po ang ating gobyerno na pwedeng ilaan hindi lamang sa isang curative mode ng health services kundi sa mas mainam na preventive at doon sa hindi lamang kung kailan magkasakit ang isang mamamayan na kung saan kailangan nyang magamit o pwede nyang gamitin," he said.

"Ang karapatan sa kalusugan ng mamamayan ay nailalagay sa kondisyon at dagdag na mga proseso na maaaring magresulta sa inaccessibility ng health care at exclusion ng maraming maralita o mahihirap," he added.

With the House approval of the bill on final reading, it will be transmitted to the Senate for further discussion and deliberation before being sent to the President, who will decide whether to enact or veto the measure. — MDM, GMA News