LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 28 (PNA) -– Sixty-six-year-old Donato Marbella beamed with a smile on hearing from news that the Senate has already approved a bill providing mandatory health insurance coverage to all Filipino senior citizens regardless of their economic or social status.
A passenger jeep driver here, Tata Don, as his fellow drivers address him, is not among the nearly 11,000 elderly in Bicol who are considered indigent to be automatically entitled to coverage by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) under Republic Act (RA) 7432 as amended by RA 9994 or the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010.
Under the same laws, PhilHealth now covers roughly four million senior citizens nationwide either as lifetime members, dependents or sponsored indigents.
RA 9994 also mandates a social pension program that provides additional government assistance in the amount of Php 500 monthly stipend to augment the daily subsistence and other medical needs of an indigent senior citizen.
As defined in Section 3 of the same Act, indigent senior citizens refer to any elderly who is frail, sickly or with disability; without pension; and no permanent source of income, compensation or financial assistance from relatives to support his/her basic needs.
Once Senate Bill 172, introduced by Senate pro tempore Ralph Recto and sponsored by Senator Teofisto Guingona III, is enacted into law, what Marbella and all the at least 2.16 million senior citizens across the country who have yet to get the health insurance coverage needs is only a valid identification card to be able to avail of it.
The bill, which was recently approved by the Senate on third and final reading, will in effect amend RA 9994, which places only indigent senior citizens under PhilHealth coverage to make it automatic and not optional among senior citizens.
“Malaking tulong ‘yan sa amin na hindi nga naturingang lubhang hikahos ay hindi naman kaya ang kontribusyong hinihingi ng PhilHealth para maging miyembro at libreng makapagpagamot sa ospital kung nagkakasakit (It’s a big help to us who, despite being not being considered indigent, cannot afford the contribution being asked by PhilHealth to become a member and avail of free hospital services when sick),” Marbella said.
He was once a PhilHealth card holder, paying a monthly contribution of Php 100 but when the amount was raised last year to Php 200, Marbella said, he gave it up.
“Hindi ko na kaya. Tumaas ang presyo ng lahat nang bilihin kasabay ng labis na pagtaas ng presyo ng krudo at gasoline samantalang ang aming kakarampot na kita sa pamamasada ay ganu'n pa rin (I can no longer afford it. Prices of all commodities have gone up along with the excessive hikes in diesel and gasoline prices while our earnings as public utility drivers remain the same),” he lamented.
At least, when the mandatory and automatic PhilHealth coverage for all senior citizens becomes a reality through the Senate measure, he said, his worries over hospitalization cost should he get sick are eased.
The government, however, will need about Php 5.2 billion annually to provide the remaining 2.16 million citizens with health insurance that also goes in line with the Aquino administration’s Universal Health Care program seeking access to quality health care for all Filipinos, especially the poor when they need it.
The needed amount, however, would be small compared to the hope that would be given to the senior citizens, according to Guingona in his sponsorship speech.
“This is a small price to pay for the promise of universal health care we have promised our citizens. The way we treat our aging citizens, and how we spare them from the misery brought by lack of access to health services, is reflective of a nation’s collective character,” he said.
According to Recto, PhilHealth, which has Php 116 billion in reserves and Php 62 billion in income as of end of last year, could more than afford to provide insurance to all the country’s elderly citizens that is only six percent of the present population.
“Let me remind you that insuring our elderly should not be viewed as a revenue loss. Rather, it should be viewed as a productive expenditure and debt paid to those who gave the best years of their lives so ours will be better,” Recto said, referring to the budget required by the measure.
Senior citizens, he added, have “invested in our future and they are entitled to dividends. This bill settles but a small portion of what we owe them. No obligation is more outstanding.”
In passing on third and final reading of the bill, Senate president Franklin Drilon said he shares the belief that the country's elderly population must be provided with accessible and sufficient health care that will help them in their twilight years, “and we can attain it by enrolling every senior citizen in PhilHealth.”
“Magaling. Kapuri-puri ang panukalang batas na ito. Masaya ako’t masasakop na rin ako sa wakas ng PhilHealth (Very well. This proposed legislative measure is laudable. I am happy that I would be at last covered by PhilHealth),” Arsenio Antonio, a 70-year-old vegetable vendor at the public market of the nearby Daraga town, said.
At least, he said, he can already seek medical attention from a hospital, not from “albularyo (quack doctor),” when he gets sick.
“Sa edad kong ito ay sakitin na ako. Rayuma at high blood ang nagpapahirap sa akin na hindi naman mabigyan ng lunas ng albularyo. Kaya kung magkakaroon ako ng PhilHealth, sa ospital ako pupunta (At my age, I am already sickly. Rheumatism and hypertension are the ones troubling my health that quack doctors cannot provide cure. When I have my PhilHealth coverage, I will go to the hospital),” Antonio said. (PNA) CTB/FGS/DOC/CBD/RSM