PhilHealth urged to shoulder COVID-19 treatments — head Solons appeal to Duterte, IATF to reverse limited aid for patients — drop head

Rodrigo Duterte

AT least three lawmakers on Thursday strongly urged President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte and officials of the inter-agency task force (IATF) against coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) to direct the state-owned Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) to shoulder the full cost of treating the deadly disease.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, and House Assistant Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo made the appeal after reading a news report that an unnamed private hospital in Metro Manila billed a “moderate case” Covid-19 patient P1.1 million for an 18-day confinement-treatment, or an average of almost P61,000 a day.

“I am appealing to the President and the IATF to reverse the decision of Philhealth to limit the treatment cost it will shoulder. It is the poor who will suffer from that decision, and I am sure the President will not allow that,” said Rodriguez, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, adding it is obvious that a severe case would cost more than P1.1 million to treat.

“Patients who are poor and even those belonging to the middle class certainly cannot afford P61,000 or even much less than that a day. The government, through Philhealth, has to help them by shouldering the full cost of treatment,” Rodriguez stressed.

Defensor, vice chairman of the House of Representatives committee on health, said Philhealth “has the resources and backing of the national government to absorb the entire cost of treating Covid-19 patients.”

“For this year, Philhealth expects to collect more than P104 billion in contributions from members. In addition to that, it is receiving a budgetary subsidy of P71.3 billion. This means that it has at least P175 billion, excluding income from investments,” said Defensor, chairman of the House committee on public accounts.

Defensor noted that in 2018, the state health insurance firm collected P118 billion in contributions and posted a net profit of P8 billion.

“Clearly, it has the financial capacity to shoulder the full cost of hospitalization of Covid-19 patients,” Defensor added.

Defensor pointed out that putting a limit on treatment expenses the government would bear “will prejudice poor patients who might shy away from seeking medical care due to the huge cost involved.”

“That is the last thing President Duterte and we in Congress want in passing the Bayanihan to Heal As One Law. We will not heal as one in fighting this pandemic if we leave out the poor,” he stressed.

Castelo made the appeal after Philhealth executive vice president for corporate affairs Shirley Domingo announced the limits ranging from P43,997 for mild pneumonia, P143,267 for moderate pneumonia, P333,519 for severe pneumonia, to P786,384 for critical pneumonia leading to COVID-19.

Castelo said Domingo’s announcement is a complete reversal of the statement made by Philhealth president Ricardo Morales last April 2 that the government, through Philhealth, would bear the full amount of treating infected patients.

“It is the poor and senior citizens who will not be able to pay for the excess cost of treatment,” she added.

She said Morales and Domingo should not expect many infections to develop into coronavirus disease “since based on official projections, less than five percent of the cases would be severe and critical, while at least 80 percent would be mild and moderate.”

Castelo pointed out that Philhealth can seek additional funds from the national government and Congress if it is in danger of running short of money for helping Covid-19 patients.

According to the news report, Rodriguez referred to, the unnamed hospital charged the patient a total of P1,112,327.59.

The bill, consisting of more than 50 pages, included P176,945 for the patient’s stay in the emergency room, P123,665 for the use of an incubator, P178,820, for x-rays and a test kit, and P305,636.06 for medicines.

The report stated that the hospital required the patient to sign a promissory note before he was discharged.

The maximum amounts were set five days after Morales announced that Philhealth would answer for the full cost of Covid-19 treatment.

On April 2, Morales said, “Babayaran ng PhilHealth and lahat ng medical expenses ng mga thong magkakaroon ng COVID-19, especially ‘yung ating mga public health workers. Gusto nating bigyan sila ng confidence saka peace of mind para silay makapagfocus sa trabaho.”

“Wala silang aalalahanin kung sila po ay magkakasakit sasagutin ng Philhealth lahat ng kanilang medical expenses,” he said.