Achieving a meaningful healthcare coverageBy Rafael Castillo M.D.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
One of the major commitments of the present administration is to provide hundred-percent healthcare coverage for all Filipinos. Getting sick and being able to afford the required treatment is a key concern of the average Filipino whose earnings are barely enough for the other basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing and children’s education. There’s practically nothing left in the family budget for healthcare such that when someone gets sick, they have to sell belongings and/or ask for financial assistance from relatives and friends.
A government-funded health insurance such as the PhilHealth is the average Filipino’s best bet for a truly meaningful assurance of getting the required healthcare services particularly when it’s serious enough to require confinement and when surgery has to be done.
Closer to reality
With the financial windfall expected from the sin tax law which is already in effect starting this month, this previously elusive dream of universal healthcare (UHC) or Kalusugang Pangkalahatan, as the government prefers to call it, is closer to reality provided the government is able to plug the existing gaps in the healthcare system.
The lack of medical and healthcare facilities can certainly be addressed by the additional funds. Public-private partnerships will make selected government hospitals world-class in terms of facilities and operational systems. Primary and secondary healthcare facilities particularly in the rural areas also need to be improved.
A vital component of our vision for UHC is having enough manpower resources to render the necessary healthcare services. We cannot easily forget the specter of the past when many hospitals in the provinces were virtually abandoned with no one to treat even simple medical problems.
Gone may be the days when doctors shifted to nursing in the quest for higher American dollars or English pounds abroad, but just when we thought that the mass exodus of healthcare professionals has ceased, we still hear of reports showing the utter lack of healthcare manpower in many rural areas nationwide, representing a big gap to be filled before a meaningful universal healthcare could be achieved.
It’s reasonable to assume that the exodus of doctors and nurses has abated, but ask the average young nurse in any hospital where she/he sees herself/himself five years from now and chances are, the answer would be any foreign country which could offer her/him a more decent salary, enough to fulfill her/his dreams of a brighter future for herself/himself and her/his family. Ask a young medical graduate and he/she would likely give a similar reply—that given the chance, he/she would like to pursue his/her dream abroad.
The countries now being targeted by our young doctors and nurses may have changed. Whereas before it was mostly the United States or Canada, now it can be England, any of the Middle East countries or even not so far away as Singapore, Malaysia or Brunei—practically any country able to offer them significantly more than the meager compensation they receive here. And who can blame them for nurturing a mindset to pack their bags and use their expertise attending to foreigners rather than their fellow Filipinos?
It is not being presumptive to think that the majority of our doctors and nurses would rather stay here if only they can be assured of a more reasonable compensation commensurate to the services they’re expected to render. The compensation must be enough for them to live decently and fulfill their simple dreams of being able to send their children to good schools and build their own homes.
Aside from a decent compensation, the government must be able to offer them a career package which can make them grow professionally over the years. Most people get a sense of fulfillment from their jobs not only from their compensation package but from the knowledge that they have opportunities down the road for professional development, advancement and empowerment.
These plus the great feeling that they’re able to contribute their share in serving his or her countrymen can be a strong motivation for our doctors and nurses to stay. And that can be a vital factor in the meaningful fulfillment of universal healthcare or Kalusugang Pangkalahatan.