Plans and promises: Presidential bets on health

MANILA, Philippines – Among the government agencies that saw significant budget increases in recent years is the Department of Health, thanks to revenues resulting from increased excise taxes.

The sin tax law is just one of the many landmark health legislations enacted under the Aquino administration.

There's the controversial reproductive health law in 2012, the graphic health warning law in 2014, and the amendment of the Expanded Senior Citizens Act to provide health insurance to all senior citizens.

Despite the great strides in the health sector in terms of legislation, the Philippines still faces many challenges, basic of which is the maldistribution of health workers in the country and the need to capacitate health centers especially those in the rural areas.

The country also contends with high dengue incidence, an HIV epidemic that is the fastest growing in the world, and the failure to meet health-related Millennium Development Goals such as reducing maternal mortality.

The Philippines has committed to achieving the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. Will the next administration work towards meeting health-related SDG targets?

Binay promised to provide free health care for all Filipinos, especially for the indigents and senior citizens. Services should also reach every Filipino, even those in far-flung areas, and as quickly as services reach those in urban areas.

He believes the country needs a comprehensive health program which strengthens and promotes preventive health care through nationwide vaccination, sanitation, and proper nutrition programs.

For Binay, it is important to put in place infrastructure, facilities, and support services and providers that will provide quality and complete health care services. He said this is as important as providing health coverage for all Filipinos.

He also wants to work with local government units (LGUs) and the private sector so that the poor can avail of free treatment in health facilities. The poor will also be provided free medicine under a Binay presidency.

Binay vowed to support LGUs in the delivery of health and medical services, and to increase the compensation and benefits for public health workers. He wants every barangay to have at least one health worker, and water systems that will provide potable water to communities.

Duterte promised to prioritize health when it comes to the national budget, along with agriculture and education. He believes preventive health programs in the country, especially on providing adequate nutrition, must be "sustainably pushed."

If he wins, Duterte will require all hospitals in the country to have a facility for indigent patients: at least 10 free beds for small hospitals, 20 for "not so big" hospitals, and 30 beds for big hospitals.

"When a person enters, you need to help them, cure them, operate on them. I will pay," he earlier said.

He proposed that government should shoulder the health care services in those facilities using the following fund sources: PhilHealth reserve funds, sin tax revenues, and the budget of the health department.

One of the highlights of Poe's health agenda is the institutionalization of a Standard Lunch Program for all public schools in the country. Based on her estimate, about P40 billion will be needed to provide free meals to children in public day care centers and elementary schools.

On basic needs. Poe wants to modernize hospitals and make sure they are equipped with enough facilities, medicines, and manpower. She is open to harnessing the private sector to provide more hospitals and clinics in the country.

At the local level, Poe said it's important to provide health centers sufficient equipment and to give local communities full access to essential medicines and maintenance medicines. The government must provide these medicines especially to those who can't afford them.

The presidential candidate also vowed to fix hospitals and barangay centers destroyed by typhoons.

On health workers. Poe supports the move to increase the minimum salary of nurses to P25,000 per month. She vowed to push for the strict implementation of the Magna Carta for Health Workers that will provide hazard and subsistence allowances for the health workers.

She also made promises for barangay health workers and nursing interns in government hospitals. Barangay health workers under her administration will get regular salaries instead of allowances or an honorarium.

Nursing interns, meanwhile, will get paid in the government hospital they work in. If possible, these interns may also be hired by the hospital after they graduate.

This is in tune with a bill filed by Poe which, if enacted, will institutionalize the Government Internship Program and allot P100 million for the compensation and training of all government interns.

On PhilHealth. Poe is pushing for the expansion of health benefits under PhilHealth and the prioritization of preventive health care and maintenance.

She also wants to establish a voucher system so that patients can access for free, at any health facility, primary health care and outpatient services.

Poe vowed to improve health care for the elderly. Under a Poe presidency, more fisherfolk families will also become PhilHealth members.

The senator also vowed to fulfill these specific promises:

Roxas wants to further expand PhilHealth coverage in the country and reduce Filipinos' out-of-pocket expenses. He also wants to address gaps in the utilization of health care services provided by the government.

Under his administration, he vowed to include in PhilHealth the provision of free maintenance medicines for all senior citizens. He also wants to continue the establishment of PhilHealth-accredited women and child centers in isolated barangays.

Roxas said there is a need to sustain the provision of complete immunization of Filipinos, from infancy to adolescence and when they reach old age. He also wants health centers in the country to provide for the poor free maintenance medicines for conditions such as diabetes, symptomatic gout, leukemia, tuberculosis, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.

But before providing these health care services, Roxas said it's important to first ensure the availability of health workers and appropriate health facilities at different levels of care. This includes health stations for every barangay with enough manpower, equipment, and medicines.

Roxas also vowed to further reduce drug prices through bulk procurement, and to properly implement the reproductive health law.

Santiago promised a government that will provide better health care for its citizens. She also wants to see the total eradication of extreme hunger in the Philippines by 2022. Health will be among her priorities when it comes to the national budget.

Santiago is also for the expansion of PhilHealth coverage in the country, but she wants to establish "progressive" universal health care with benefit packages that cover needed health care interventions. She also wants another benefit package which exempts the poor from any payments.

Her government, she said, will work on strengthening health systems to improve maternal and child health, instead of focusing on disease-driven initiatives. Santiago vowed to improve facilities in barangay health centers, equipping them with more vaccines and medicines.

The senator said she will oppose the privatization of hospitals and remove the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office practice requiring beneficiaries to bring endorsement letters from government officials. Santiago also vowed to fully implement the reproductive health law. – Rappler.com

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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