Although the nation provides a universal health coverage system called PhilHealth (the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation), the quality of the Philippines’ healthcare system varies widely between urban and rural areas. The standard of public healthcare varies directly alongside the average income in these areas; urban areas tend to have a higher average income than in rural areas. Consequently, the public healthcare system struggles with this lack of balance; the urban areas receive excellent equipment and staff, while services in rural areas are not provided the same quality. The U.S. Embassy in Manila states that hospitals in and around Manila – the capital city of the Philippines – offer high-quality medical care. Hospitals outside of the major urban cities offer only basic treatments in their underdeveloped stages.
Public vs. Private Healthcare
As with many countries, healthcare in the Philippines is split into two sectors: private and public healthcare. Those who are able to afford private healthcare are simultaneously provided a better system overall. Though the doctors are of the same caliber in public hospitals, private facilities are better equipped and treatment is easily obtained. One of the reasons this division occurs is due to the number of people who rely on public healthcare in the Philippines. There is also an ongoing trend that Filipino medical staff immigrate to countries with better pay and facilities; the Philippines is the biggest supplier for medical personnel in the world. Southeast Asia’s frequent recipient countries include the Global North and the Middle East. Due to the ratio of understaffed medical employees in the public healthcare system and the number of those that rely on public healthcare, patients oftentimes experience delays in treatment. In addition, public healthcare in the Philippines is funded by the government and thus, operating on limited funding to provide efficient treatment and resulting in poorer equipment.
PhilHealth and Poverty
While the price for private healthcare may be a small sum to ex-pats – around 2500 pesos – the average local struggles with affording these services. Thus, the division between efficient and proper healthcare is directly correlated with the wage gap. With more than a 16% poverty rate, the average household income in the Philippines is around 267 pesos per month.
The current universal health coverage system, PhilHealth, pays for the sick, subsidizes those who are unable to pay for medical treatment and provides similar aid to those who are financially stable as well. With the abundance of citizens in the country and with limited funding provided by the government, PhilHealth, unfortunately, struggles to provide medical financial aid to every citizen. The Philippines (as of April 2020) has a population of around 100 million and PhilHealth solely covers all expenses for seven million of those citizens. PhilHealth covers a variety of treatments, including non-emergency surgeries and inpatient care, but does not cover regular medical expenditures. This leaves a concerning healthcare gap for low-income earners in the Philippines.
The Universal Health Care Act
With a significant portion of the population in poverty and unable to access proper healthcare, the government has taken active steps to revitalize the nation’s healthcare systems. Former Filipino President Arroyo reserved 3.5 billion pesos with the goal of providing 23.5 million citizens with quality healthcare. While the Philippines has a history of numerous unsuccessful revamp projects, current President Duterte implemented the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act in 2019 utilizing this money. In doing so, the UHC Act focuses on Filipino citizens and uses the remaining profit to lure ex-pats to Filipino hospitals for treatment. The goal is to increase the country’s medical revenue and entice Filipino medical professionals to stay in the country. As a result, the number of medical personnel will increase, improving the overall quality of healthcare in the Philippines.
While improving healthcare in the Philippines is a lofty goal, the PhilHealth system coupled with the UHC Act is a step in the right direction. However, in order to provide equal healthcare for all, the Philippines must combat the root causes of healthcare inequities by addressing gaps in urban and rural communities.
– Aditi Prasad