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Duterte signs universal healthcare bill into law

President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday signed into law a landmark bill that guarantees all Filipinos equal access to quality and affordable goods and services in healthcare.

Duterte signed the Universal Health Care Act during a ceremony in Malacañang.

Under the law, all Filipino citizens are automatically enrolled into the National Health Insurance Program as direct contributors or those who have the capacity to pay premiums, and indirect contributors sponsored by the government such as indigents and senior citizens.

It has a funding requirement of P257 billion, but was given an appropriations of only P217 billion under the proposed 2019 national budget.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said the funding gap of P40 billion would mean not all hospitals or health centers as envisioned under the law would be constructed.

The construction of barangay health units in fourth to sixth class municipalities would be prioritized, so patients would not have to visit hospitals for minor ailments, Duque said.

The law also mandates the expansion of Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) coverage to include free consultation fees, laboratory tests, and other diagnostic services.

PhilHealth was created in 1995 to implement universal health coverage in the country. As a government-owned and controlled corporation, PhilHealth is tax-exempt and attached to the Department of Health.

Filipinos who are not enrolled in PhilHealth could still benefit from health care services since the premium subsidy will be gradually adjusted and included in the General Appropriations Act.

The law also calls for an improved doctor-to-patient ratio as well as an upgrade of hospital bed capacities and equipment and the establishment of hospitals in remote areas. —VDS/ LDF, GMA News