THE government will only be wasting public funds intended for universal health coverage if it is unable to provide needed facilities and services in public hospitals and health clinics all over the country, a lawmaker said on Friday.

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, former chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, said the government would fail to meet its target of providing free quality health service to the public unless it armed government hospitals with needed equipment and manpower.

“If the government is really serious about the health of its people, it needs to properly equip public health facilities, especially in areas where local governments do not have sufficient budget for health spending,” Escudero added.

According to the senator, many health institutions still lack equipment such as X-ray and ultrasound machines, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, electrocardiogram (ECG) machines and ventilators.

Some remote areas do not even have doctors.

Meanwhile, billions of funds have been allocated by Congress under the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) of the Department of Health (DOH) in the last two years.

Escudero said Congress allotted P13.5 billion and P13.2 billion in 2014 and 2015, respectively, for the HFEP.

Through the program, rural health units, barangay (village) health stations and local government-run hospitals should be able to acquire the necessary equipment and hire highly trained health professionals that would make them more responsive to the population’s health needs.

The HFEP would also help them meet the accreditation requirements of PhilHealth, which would allow more indigents to seek treatment in public health care facilities.

Escudero, however, said there are public health facilities still unaccredited by PhilHealth, the reason why many PhilHealth members seek treatment in private hospitals, where they are forced to shell out more money to pay their bills.

Last year, PhilHealth made a total of P78 billion in benefit payments, 23 percent of which went to private hospitals and clinics.

Some 90 million Filipinos are enrolled in PhilHealth.

Of this, 43 million are indigent members and their dependents.

“Implementing a universal health coverage plan without making sure that there are enough facilities and quality health workers means spending a lot of money with little chance of better health results, especially for the most marginalized sectors of society,” Escudero said.