“Essentially this bill is a disguised privatization scheme to further let go of the government’s responsibility for health care. It is meant to facilitate private-public partnerships and is thus one step closer to the full privatization of our hospitals.” – Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Are Filipinos all over the country ready to pay for privatized health services?
On May 16, 2012, the Committee on Health of the House of Representatives gave its shocking approval to the passage of House Bill No. 6069 or “An Act Creating National Government Hospital Corporations.”
The bill was originally filed by Bacolod Rep. Anthony Rolando T. Golez, Jr. The chairman of the committee, Negros Occidental 2nd District Rep. Alfredo Marañon III gave his full support to the proposal, alleging that the corporatization of government hospitals will lead to better management of funds that in turn will result to more services for poor patients.
The Department of Health-supervised hospitals to be converted into corporations are:: Cagayan Valley Medical Center, Veterans Regional Hospital, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Ilocos Training and Regional Medical Center, Regional Medical Center, Dr. Paulino J. Garcia Memorial Research and Medical Center, Jose B. Lingad Memorial Medical Center, Bicol Medical Center (Naga City), Bicol Research Training and Teaching Hospital (Legaspi City), Quirino Memorial Medical Center, Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center, Rizal Medical Center, Amang Rodriguez Medical Center, San Lazaro Hospital, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center, Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital, Western Visayas Medical Center, Northern Mindanao Medical Center, Southern Philippines Medical Center, Zamboanga City Medical Center, Cotobato Regional and Medical Center, CARAGA Regional Hospital, Davao Regional Hospital, Mayor Hilarion A. Ramiro, Sr. Regional Center and Training Hospital.
In reaction to the protests against his bill, Golez said it was not really a proposal for privatization of the public health sector, but covers only the 25 hospitals, among which is the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital, as well as other government owned and controlled hospitals.
“This will give the hospitals more autonomy in their management and can conduct income-generating activities that will be primarily used for indigent patients,” he was quoted in the media.
Another proponent of the measure, Iloilo 1st District Rep. Janette Garin also said that in the long run, public hospitals are better off being “corporatized” because they will supposedly be managed better. She said that turning public hospitals into private or corporate entities will help them secure more funding and ,in the process, allow them to expand their services and reach out more to the poor.
The two lawmakers also said the employees of the hospitals that will be affected by the proposal will “greatly benefit” because there is a provision allowing the hospitals to give bonuses to its staff.
Garin previously filed a bill for the corporatization of the West Visayas Medical Center.
In the meantime, Department of Health Secretary Enrique Ona has also expressed full support for the measure and said that it will maximize efficiency in hospitals.
In the senate, a counterpart measure has been filed by senator Franklin Drilon.
Privatization means higher fees, harder access to health care
On the part of lawmakers of Gabriela Women’s Party and Bayan Muna said, however, the corporatization of public hospitals will only mean one thing: death to public health access.
Late last May, the Gabriela Women’s Party, on the the occasion of the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, and during its 5th National Convention launched its national women’s health campaign. The group said the campaign is a response to the urgent need to assess the health situation facing women in the country, particularly those from the indigent sectors.
GWP Rep. Luz Ilagan said the incumbent government , like its predecessors, has abandoned this responsibility to secure public health and ensure that the majority of Filipinos have access to quality and affordable medical services. Luz said the Aquino administration’s private-public partnership schemes that cover public hospitals give backbone to proposals like Golez’s.
Rep. Emmi de Jesus, also of GWP, said it doesn’t matter if HB 6069 only covers 25 public hospitals, there is still a need to oppose it.
“The move to corporatize the 26 public hospitals in different parts of the country is a first step toward privatizing government healthcare services,” she argued. “Privatization goes directly against the public good. The poor will be denied what remains of their access to public health care, and poor women and children, specifically will be most seriously affected because they comprise the majority of patients in government hospitals.”
Ilagan also pointed out that the Aquino administration has directly gone against the declaration of the the World Health Organization that governments should set aside at least five percent of its Gross National Product (GNP) for health.
“What’s outrageous is the fact that of the P3 trillion GNP ($ 697.6 billion) the Philippines had during the third quarter of 2011, the Aquino government allocated only P42.69 billion ($100 million) for health services. This is equivalent to P1.17 ($0 .027) for each Filipino per day, she said. “The government has totally abandoned its responsibility to deliver accessible health care services by slashing the health budget and pushing for privatization of government hospitals. It also refuses to see that the costs of health services will increase and will have the immediate and cruel effect of displacing charity patients. Where will poor Filipinos go if they can no longer afford government hospitals? Will they just stay home and await their death because they cannot afford hospital care?”
The two lawmakers said as Filipino women and their families continue to be plagued by joblessness, low wages, landlessness as well as the relentless increase in the prices of basic goods and services, they still have to contend with the reality of inaccessible health care.
“Food takes precedence over everything else in this game of survival the poor are forced to play. Because of the decreasing family income, the budget for health becomes a family’s least priority, and this points toward a most inhumane kind of government system, a seriously twisted set of fiscal priorities,” they said.
A seriously wrong situation
In the meantime, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said if passed into law, HB 6069 will likely result in higher hospital fees and reduced services for poor patients.
He said for all the spin the proponents put into the proposal, there is no denying that the bill aims to convert government-run hospitals into independent money-making corporations.
“It will justify more cuts in government subsidies and the reduction of services to indigent patients,” he said.
Casino also said the bill did not go through the proper process of deliberation in Congress. He pointed out that stakeholders and affected sectors were not given sufficient notice, time and opportunity to air their concerns.
Casiño said the experience in the four existing GOCC hospitals – The Philippine Heart Center, Kidney Center, Lung Center and Children’s Medical Center – showed that the need to earn revenues resulted in the displacement of indigent patients in favor of richer, paying patients.
“The directors of the four existing GOCC hospitals are all complaining that they have to allot more beds and facilities to rich patients because government is not giving them enough subsidies for the poor. The same thing will happen to the 26 public hospitals to be corporatized by this bill,” he warned.
“Essentially this bill is a disguised privatization scheme to further let go of the government’s responsibility for health care. It is meant to facilitate private-public partnerships and is thus one step closer to the full privatization of our hospitals,” he said.
Casiño also said that if more hospitals are corporatized, some government hospitals might as well convert themselves into pawnshops and malls.
“Aside from having restaurants and stalls inside hospital compounds, it is not far off that even pawnshops would have branches inside public hospitals if House Bill 6069 becomes a law. It may become standard practice of hospitals to have pawnshops or act as pawnshops themselves given their new thrust to earn revenues,” he said.
Last year, Casiño exposed the practice of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center of asking indigent patients to pawn personal items like mobile phones and watches in exchange for releasing patients.
In the meantime, the lawmaker said that even pre-corporatization, the fees in existing GOCC hospitals are higher than those of public hospitals and even some private hospitals.
For instance, the diagnostic procedures like the HbA1C (blood sugar analysis) are more expensive in the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) compared to the private Capitol Medical Center (P600 as against P400) ($13.95 – US$9.30) Hemodialyisis in NKTI is also more expensive than private dialysis centers.
“In the Philippine Heart Center (PHC), more than 1,600 patients could not be operated on last year for lack of funds, some of whom already died while waiting. The number of charity beds decreased from 70 percent to 20 percent in 2010. There is also no 100 percent free treatment n the PHC. Depending on the procedure or ailment, a patient classified as Class D or C has to produce tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of pesos for the operation or procedure to continue,” he said.
“This is not the kind of health care the Filipino people deserve. The Aquino administration, just like the previous government, has its priorities twisted. Public health services should be a top priority, the same way public education and housing should be. What kind of nation do we have where going to a hospital costs as much as checking into a five-star hotel? Majority of Filipinos are poor, but health care is accessible — isn’t it obvious that there’s something seriously wrong here?”