By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America Bureau
April 9, 2013

Philippine Health Secretary Enrique Ona is visiting DC next week and will dialogue with Fil-Am physicians on various issues, including his views on US Medicare portability and a proposal for Fil-Ams to “adopt” some provincial hospitals back home.

Dr. Johnny Montero, who helped arrange the meeting, noted that Ona is a “mutual friend and colleague” (he completed his hospital residency in Brooklyn, NY in the mid-1960s and became a Fellow at the Lahey Clinic in Boston, MA. and St. Claire Hospital in New York City in the late 60s.). He has medical licenses from both the Philippines and Massachusetts, USA.

The “pulong-pulong” with Dr. Ona has been scheduled from 4 to 5:30 in the afternoon next Wednesday (April 17) at the Romulo Hall of the Philippine Embassy along Massachusetts Ave. NW (best to wait for the official announcement from the Embassy on the final schedule).

Dr. Hernan Reyes, a former president of the Society of Philippine Surgeons in America, said Ona also wanted to brief Fil-Am doctors on the current state of health care delivery in the Philippines, especially in depressed communities, the controversial Reproductive Health Law (which the Supreme Court placed on hold) as well as the landmark tobacco and alcohol excise tax bill, and implementation of the universal health insurance program that reportedly has 25 million beneficiaries today.

“Regardless of our politics, they are definitely worthwhile to support and I hope many more our Fil-Am physician colleagues including leaders of various Fil-Am organizations will support these programs,” Reyes said.

A native of Pagadian City (Zamboanga del Sur), he joined the Aquino Cabinet over two years ago.

While huge strides have been achieved – especially on universal health care – various groups have expressed concern that the Aquino administration has not been investing enough in health. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which prepares regular “country score cards”, noted that health expenditures in the Philippines represented only about a third of the median, and there were also gaps in spending for children’s health and immunization rates.

Although the 2012 health budget posted a nearly P10 billion (about $240 million) increase to P42.7 billion (about $1.04 billion) compared to the previous year, this was barely enough to cope with increased population and inflation, according to Dr. Geneve Rivera, secretary general of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD).

They warned that the viability of PhilHealth – the universal health insurance program – could be seriously jeopardized if public hospitals are understaffed and under-funded. About 40 percent of the 1,800 hospitals in the Philippines are state owned or operated; half of all hospital beds are in government hospitals.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that countries devote at least 5 percent of GDP to health spending (in the US, it’s close to 18 percent, China 5.1 percent, Malaysia 4.4 percent, Myanmar 2 percent) which translates to about P440 billion (about $107 billion). The World Bank says that between 2008 and 2012 the Philippines spent the equivalent of 3.6 percent of GDP for health.

Every year, scores of Fil-Am health care practitioners travel back to the Philippines, spending their own money to provide free medical services for poor Filipinos. Occasionally they bring along used but still relatively advanced medical equipment that are donated to public hospitals.

The outline of the proposed adopt-a-hospital program was reportedly discussed earlier in Chicago and Ona is eager to implement it for Philippine hospitals.

Montero indicated that also attending next week’s meeting are proponents of the Medicare portability program who want the White House and US Congress to allow retired Fil-Ams to use their Medicare benefits in the Philippines.

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  • noz
    9 April 2013 at 9:04 pm - Reply

    obama’s upcoming budget will cut 400 billion a year from medicare. uncontrolled medicare fraud for years, the government has no effective measures to attack the fraudsters. imagine, medicare payments to medical providers from other countries? the government cannot even control the fraud in america, how much more in foreign countries. if medicare gets approve for filipino seniors and non seniors qualified for medicare, then the medicare approval must be extended to the rest of the countries of the world as well.