(Manila) – An already controversial plan by the Aquino Administration to privatize some of the Philippines’ public hospitals drew new fire last week when officials of the Department of Health announced that charity wards would be phased out of all hospitals by next year.
Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa explained that the charity wards for indigent patients would be replaced by universal coverage under the government-managed PhilHealth insurance program. According to Herbosa, about 5.2 million people have already been enrolled in the program, with the government setting aside about Php 12.6 billion ($300.2 million, or approximately $11.55 per person) for their health care requirements for next year. Critics of the plan, however, including one former Secretary of Health, said the funds would be better spent improving access to health care for the Philippines’ rural population, many of whom live in areas with no hospitals or health facilities.
Although the DOH counters that PhilHealth coverage would give the poorest patients additional options since they would be covered in private hospitals as well, further doubt was cast on the plan on Wednesday when the 900-member Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines announced they would not honor PhilHealth insurance cards until the agency settles Php 2 billion ($47.7 million) in overdue charges owed to its members. A group representing Filipino migrant workers has also condemned the plan, pointing out that dependents of the Philippines’ estimated 9 million overseas workers are ineligible for PhilHealth coverage, and may lose access to health care under the proposal. Opposition lawmakers have sounded off as well, charging that the distribution of the PhilHealth insurance cards is suspiciously-timed to coincide with upcoming midterm elections (scheduled for May of next year), calling the move a desperate ploy by the Administration to influence voters using DOH funds.