Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño urges his fellow lawmakers to withdraw support from privatization of public hospitals.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — As the House of Representatives starts its 16th congressional session later this July, apprehensions are rife that it will push for the complete privatization of public hospitals in the country, leaving poor patients at the mercy of corporate interests.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño is appealing to his colleagues to withdraw support to bills that aim to corporatize the country’s public hospitals. He said lawmakers should realize that House Bill 6069 or “An Act Creating National Government Hospital Corporations,” has dire, if not life-threatening implications for the country’s poorest citizens. He said hospital corporatization and the government’s Public-Private Partnership scheme will result to higher hospital fees.
“This bill and its counterpart measure Senate Bill 3130 or the National Government Hospital Corporate Restructuring Act, will make healthcare services inaccessible for poor families all over the country,” he said.
House Bill 6069 is authored by Bacolod City Rep. Anthony Golez while Sen. Franklin Drilon is behind SB 3130.
Casiño is actively campaigning against public health privatization saying that privatizing government hospitals will only worsen the already considerable problems the hospitals are already facing. He said many public hospitals are already charging exorbitant fees for their services.
He said the corporatized Philippine Heart Center (PHC) and the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) already charge as much as P415 ($9.65) to P430 ($10.23) for a chest x-ray while the Jose Reyes Medical Center and the Rizal Medical Center, both of which are among the 26 hospitals being targeted for corporatization charge only P290 ($6.90) to P310 ($7.38) for the same service.
An ultrasound procedure that many women need in the course of their pregnancy costs only P750 ($17.85) at the Jose Reyes Medical Center. The NKTI and the PHC charge P1,650 ($39.28) and P1,800 ($42.85) respectively for the same procedure.
Casiño said the poor in the country’s poorest regions will have to pay higher rates for the same procedures.
“Of course it becomes more expensive for those procedures and other health care services in the provinces. For instance, Negros Occidental has only 80 hospitals. Only 18 of these are government hospitals, and they will all have to cover the health service needs of the local 2.4 million population. The poor’s access to health care is extremely difficult. Government hospitals should still be service-oriented, not profit-oriented that is why no one in his right mind would want to increase hospital fees at the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital. The only thing that should be increased there and all government hospitals is the government budget for medicines, infrastructure and the health workers’ and professionals salaries and benefits,” Casiño said.
The Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital was only given P262.32 million ($6.23 million) in the 2012 national budget.
“It is the government’s responsibility to provide its people with quality health care, especially the poor. It is not the role of government to give its health assets to private schemes. This is why we should nix the corporatization of government hospitals,” Casiño said.
In a related development, the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) on the occasion of President Benigno Aquino III’s second year in office last June 30 said health statistics continue to worsen, along with the problems faced by health workers. The AHW said that the Aquino administration’s privatization policy has failed to improve people’s health. It joined a protest against the administration’s public-private partnership program held in front of the Philippine General Hospital.
Deteriorating health of Filipinos
AHW president Jossel Ebesate argued that even the Department of Health has admitted that the country has failed to lower the national maternal mortality rate of 221 deaths per 100,000 live births in the period 2006-2010 compared to 161out of every 100,000 in the period in 2000-2005.
“Contrary to the Aquino government’s claim that it wants universal health for Filipinos, health services are becoming more inaccessible to the poor majority. The Aquino government is continuing the privatization program that was begun in the 1990s. The fee-for-service in public hospitals and hospital budget cuts are designed as a privatization measure under the ‘Kalusugan Pangkalahatan’ program of the administration that was launched in September 2011,” Ebesate said.
Kalusugan Pangkalahatan is being spearheaded by the DOH. Its main aim is supposedly to provide financial risk protection for all Filipinos, especially the poor, by ensuring universal PhilHealth coverage and improving the benefits of PhilHealth. In a statement, the DOH said ” the PPP initiatives are designed to help PhilHealth encourage more and more people to become part of PhilHealth and to assist PhilHealth in improving its services for its members.”
DOH Secretary Enrique T. Ona, who also serves as the Chairman of the Board of PhilHealth said the agency is “hellbent in achieving universal coverage in three years” in accordance with the the National Health Insurance Law that mandates that all Filipinos must be members of PhilHealth.
Ebesate said despite the claims that the Kalusugan Pangkalahatan program will democratize health services by making them more accessible to the poor, the opposite is happening as rate of services continue to increase.
“The public birthing hospital Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital now charges some P3,000-P5,000 ($71.43 to $119) for normal delivery, while the Tondo Medical Center now charges a minimum of P1,500 to P2,000 ($36 to $48) for normal delivery. The PGH will also be charging indigent patients for selected diagnostic and laboratory procedures. These hospitals used to provide free obstetric delivery and other health services before the revenue enhancement program was implemented by the government,” he said.
Patients and the public unite against privatization
The Network Opposed to Privatization (NOP)also is actively fighting against the privatization of public hospitals. It makes the rounds of public hospitals encouraging hospital workers, medical professionals and the public to stand against all attempts to transform the hospitals into corporate entities. The group has already held simultaneous protest actions in front of the PHC, Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, the PGH, the National Center for Mental Health, National Children’s Hospital, Tondo Medical Center. Members of the network posted posters and streamers against privatization.
Sean Velchez, a registered nurse, president of the union in the National Orthopedic Hospital and NOP convenor said government hospitals have been put up on the auction block via the government PPP program.
“Privatization proponents say that privatization efforts will serve goals of modernization and efficiency, but they say nothing about the severe impact on patients and the rest of the public. Among the affected hospitals of the privatization scheme are the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), San Lazaro Hospital (SLH), the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), and 25 other public hospitals across the country,” he said.
Dr. Gene Nisperos, NOP Convener, also said that already, various forms of healthcare privatization are being implemented by the Aquino government at the expense of Filipino patients.
“Already there’s the University Physicians Medical Center, a private health facility operating within the PGH compound. Basic hospital services, like radiology, are also being suc-contracted. The government is also selling the Welfareville property in Mandaluyong City where the National Center for Mental Health is. The area is being cleared to make way to a new mall and high-end residential buildings,” he said.
Nisperos said the entry of private business groups in the public health care delivery system directly heightens the in-accessibility of health care in the country. The cost of health services, becomes even more prohibitive than it already is.
“Patients not only have to contend with diseases, but also the highly expensive costs of the cure. Many ordinary Filipinos are pushed into deeper destitution”, he said.
The NOP said the provision of free, comprehensive and progressive health care is a responsibility of the Aquino government should not be allowed to evade.
“Privatization is clear proof that the government is abandoning its responsibilities to the people. It means depriving Filipinos not just the healthcare they need but the decent life they deserve,” it said.