By JEANETTE SUANDING-EDILLON, MD
Member, Marikina Valley Medical Society;
Philippine Medical Association
“During this COVID-19 pandemic, we, the physicians of the Philippines are risking our lives to save our countrymen. We pay for personal protective equipment out of our own pockets and our families bear the brunt of the sacrifice. Like any ordinary citizens, we have families to feed, medications to buy, children to send to school and parents to support. The new payment scheme to be an Accredited Healthcare Professionals under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation that increased to 600% from our previous premium is a heavy burden especially to our new physicians and many among us who are not from the few top-tier earners of the profession. We are starting this petition in the hopes that you will hear our plight as ordinary citizens and as physicians. Please help us.”
These, based on an online petition started by Dr. Sol Navarro Diaz from Iloilo City entitled, “AMEND the Law Indicating 3% Philhealth Premiums for Physicians and 0.5% Yearly Increase,” signed by over 35,500 individuals.
Republic Act 11223 otherwise known as Universal Health Care Law (UHC) was crafted to provide quality health care to all 109 million Filipinos and allow equal access to indigents to services from outpatient to hospital care. On November 23, 2019, PhilHealth Circular No. 2019-0009 was published specifying increased premium rates for Direct Contributors which includes physicians, OFWs and all self-employed individuals to three percent starting January 2020 and henceforth adjusted to increments of 0.5 percent yearly until it reaches the five percent limit in 2025.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, pushed all sectors to recognize the pressing needs of the health system and the necessity for the government to invest more on health since the cost of preventive measures at the primary health care level is considerably lower compared to the expenses of hospital care. This pandemic disrupted all lives and livelihoods worldwide and caused a markedly decreased capacity of all sectors to pay their premiums resulting to a negative impact on the National Health Insurance.
Last May 27, 2020, Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao filed PS Resolution 429 asking his fellow lawmakers to suspend the increase of Philhealth premium contributions as recognition and gratitude to help and support the frontliners.
On June 16, Committee Chairs for Health Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and Representative Angelina Tan convened the First Joint Senate and Congressional Oversight Committees Meeting on Universal Health Care Law via Zoom Meeting that was livestreamed on social media attended by Senators Risa Hontiveros, Francis Tolentino, Richard Gordon and JV Ejercito, the principal author of the UHC law; Representatives Michael Defensor (Party-list, ANAKALUSUGAN), Janette Garin (1st District, Iloilo), Maria Laarni Cayetano (2nd District, Taguig City-Pateros), Maricel Nagano M.D. (4th District, Nueva Ecija), and Yedda Marie Romualdez (Party-list, TINGOG SINIRANGAN); together with Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Dr. Francisco Duque and Undersecretary Mario Villaverde, and PhilHealth President & CEO Ricardo C. Morales, AFT (RET) FICD who presented the updates on the status of implementation of the new UHC Law. Various Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) groups and physicians were represented.
Dr. Jose Santiago, President of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) conveyed the doctors’ sentiments seeking to suspend premium contributions until December 2021 and amend the premium rates to pre-UHC rates to give time to the health sector to go back to almost normal earning capacity after being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the PMA is seeking for a review of the UHC Law to include a PMA representative in policy-making bodies of the Philhealth, Health Technology Assessment Council and Special Health Fund relevant to the management of resources intended for population-based and individual-based health services.
Dr. Jose Antonio Salud, President of the Philippine College of Surgeons, cited the difficulties of hospitals where admissions have been markedly decreased while COVID hospitalization increased and private clinics closed and employees displaced.
Dr. Raquel Llarena, President of the Rizal-Parañaque Medical Society brought forward the concern of working senior physicians who are required to pay premiums, thus, foregoing the provisions exempting senior citizens.
In an interview with Dr. Malou Monteverde, former president of Davao Medical Society and former governor of Philippine Medical Association Southern Mindanao, she reiterates that doctors recognize that Universal Health Care is imperative to provide quality health service to the nation. However, as frontliners affected by the pandemic socio-economically, they are pleading for suspension of the increase in premium payments based on income tax returns.
The United Filipino MDs composed of over 10200 members represented by Dr. Jeanette Suanding-Edillon, a member of the PMA and the Marikina Valley Medical Society and Dr. Christian Arce Luna (UFMD Administrator) support the statements from the Philippine Medical Association. As frontliners at the helm of this disaster response who lost leaders from the profession, families and friends, doctors continue to serve but request the government to listen to their appeal.
In order to adapt to this scenario, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) President & CEO, Ricardo C. Morales, AFT (RET) FICD, recommended a delay in the implementation of UHC due to the significant drop in contributions which is pushing the agency to conserve its resources and, to disaggregate membership segments in terms of premium increase implementation due to varying needs of different sectors.
A Congressional Technical Working Group composed of lawmakers and representatives from DOH, PHIC, DOLE, DBM, NEDA, and invited concerned parties will be created to discuss the proposals and suggestions of the concerned sectors so as to bridge the gap between health, concerned groups, and the economy.
To doctors who wish to update themselves on the status of this appeal, kindly contact your PMA component society officers or send message to the United Filipino MDs Facebook Page.*