Bill eyes free outpatient services

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From Dasmariñas City, Cavite, 28-year-old Jovie Mae Pelere, parent to two children, brought her youngest child to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila to get her checked for an ailment because they couldn’t afford the expensive consultation fee in the nearby hospital.

“When we buy medicines outside, we are spending about P8,000. We are spending more for our medicines so we have cut off other necessary expenses at home,” said Pelere in Filipino.

Pelere and her husband don’t have their own home. They used to rent a home for P3,500 a month but since they cannot afford it anymore, they opted to stay in a neighbor’s house with their children.

Her husband travels far for work and his fare is expensive so they can’t even see a doctor for their children’s check-up.


PEOPLE IN NEED Jovie Mae Pelere, 28 years old, with her child while waiting for their checkup at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

When she had one kid, Pelere would go to a private hospital for check-ups. But now with two children, she has no choice but to go to a public hospital because it’s cheaper.

“We go to a health center before for a check-up, but they don’t know what to do to my child so they sent us to PGH,” lamented Pelere.

Pelere is just one of the many poor Filipinos who cannot even afford decent health care.

In a Social Weather Stations Survey on Healthcare Services and Financing, commissioned by Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines in 2010, it was discovered that 87 percent of adult Filipinos expect the government to provide health care for all, including those who cannot afford to pay for it.

“It is high time we care for our patients to protect their well-being instead of just delaying their trip to the grave, so to speak. We need reforms in our healthcare delivery system that will focus on preventing ailments and promoting health aside from intervening when people are already sick. Curative care is important but can be more exacting on the resources of the government and of patients and their families, most especially,” said medical doctor Antonio Dans, head of Philippine Primary Care Studies.

For outpatient care
Philippine Primary Care Studies is a research group of the University of the Philippines that is helping the Department of Health (DOH), local government units, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), and Congress to prioritize the strengthening of primary care systems as one of the key elements of Universal Health Care (UHC).

According to Dans, primary care in its simplest definition is “outpatient care”. This is where disease prevention takes place and where the focus of PhilHealth benefits should be to realize the goal of universal health care.

“Many patients do not have access to hospital facilities but can still go to outpatient facilities near them. Most diseases need outpatient care and not hospitalization. And even most patients who have been treated in a hospital would need outpatient care when they are discharged,” he explained.

While the current health system in the country works for some, this is does not represent the whole population. Many Filipinos still do not have access to health services despite the increase in the number of households getting covered by PhilHealth.

For the first quarter of 2018, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) reported it already has 120,356 beneficiaries for its Individual Medical Assistance Program (IMAP), a 34-percent increase from the same period last year.

The agency also spent P2.35 billion, an increase of 40-percent from the same period last year.

“If you have PhilHealth, use it first. And if you have medical insurance or senior citizen’s discount, use it for your health care needs,” explained PCSO General Manager Alexander Balutan in Filipino.

To relive the patients from personal appearance in PCSO Main Office in Mandaluyong City or its extension office at the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City, Balutan advised patients to go directly to 52 PCSO ASAP Desks located in partner-hospitals nationwide.

Aside from ASAP Desks, patients can also go to PCSO branches located nationwide.

“’The branches of PCSO has funds. In General Santos City, for example, the PCSO there has P350,000 per day, P50,000 of that is for Sultan Kudarat. Those funds are utilized everyday,” said Balutan in Filipino.

The Senate is currently tackling three bills on UHC: Senate Bill 1673 authored by Sen. Sonny Angara, Senate Bill 1458 filed by Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, and Senate Bill 1714 by Sen. Risa Hontiveros.

Upon approval, these bills intend to expand outpatient services to the full range of primary care for everyone, to include preventive and promotive health service, such as executive check-up and laboratory test.

The proposed strengthening of Philippine primary care systems, according to Dans, aims not only to provide all Filipino families with a primary care provider, but to link every Filipino with a local network of service providers designed and financed to take care of assigned populations.

The primary care provider will be the patients’ first point of contact in the health system and will be in charge of referring them to other health care providers in the service delivery network should they require more treatment.

This allows easier, more equitable access to essential health care needs such as check-ups, and lowers out-of-pocket spending for health care, as it prevents cases of Filipinos going straight to specialists and paying a higher than necessary price for treatment,” added Dans.

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