The 'health bucket' challenge

By Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 27 2014 11:23 PM | Updated as of Aug 28 2014 09:26 AM

MANILA -- A lawmaker on Wednesday challenged the government to "pour more money into the health bucket" so it can improve health facilities, hire more doctors, and reduce deaths from curable diseases like tuberculosis.

The dare was aired by Senator Ralph Recto, who said that while health spending of the national government will "commendably" balloon to P102.5 billion next year, from P40 billion in 2010, more funds are needed "treat the sick, and keep 100 million Filipinos healthy."

Getting the biggest slice in the health spending pie is the Department of Health (DOH), with a proposed budget of P86.6 billion for 2015.

Of this amount, P37 billion is earmarked for the enrolment of 15.4 million poor families in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.

On top of the P86.6 billion budget of the DOH, Quezon City-based specialty hospitals like the Lung, Kidney, and Heart Centers will also get budgetary support under the proposed P2.6 trillion 2015 national budget.

But while the health sector's allocation may appear to be large on paper, Recto said "it will only meet a fraction of the total health needs of the country."

Clearly, there are programs whose funding must be augmented.

"These programs need the budgetary equivalent of a blood transfusion," Recto said.

He cited the recommended outlay for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program, a banner project designed to upgrade the chain of health facilities from national hospitals to barangay health stations.

Recto said the proposed allocation of P2.9 billion for equipment is not enough as it will be shared by 19 DOH hospitals, 128 local government-run hospitals, 587 rural health units, and 1,242 barangay health stations.


The senator is also batting for the recruitment of more government doctors, saying that the 398 physicians the government plans to hire next year barely copes with the annual population growth of 1.8 million.

He also called for the hiring of more dentists as the "480 who will be recruited next year barely makes a dent in the huge backlog."

Recto also noted a reduction in the number of children to be immunized from 2.7 million in 2014 to 2.2 million next year.

"If more children need to be vaccinated, then let not fund lack be a hindrance," he said.

He said the number of children to be given vitamin A supplement should be retained at its 2014 level of 5.9 million. This number was reduced to 4.4 million in 2015.


Recto also pushed for more funds in the drive to stamp out tuberculosis, the sixth leading killer in the country, which claims 75 lives daily.

For 2015, the allocation for TB control is P1.1 billion which, Recto laments, is below the P5 billion needed to ensure a TB-free population.

He said funds to combat dengue should be hiked and make it a separate funding item.

The senator explained that funds to prevent and combat the mosquito-borne disease are lumped together with the allocation for HIV, and other water-borne diseases.

He noted that total available funding for dengue, HIV, AIDS and water-borne diseases "is about P2 million a day."


Recto also recommended an increase in the government subsidy for four Quezon City-based specialty hospitals.

Next year's subsidy for Lung Center of the Philippines is pegged at P186 million or P16 million lower than this year's.

Also facing cuts is the subsidy for the Philippine Heart Center which will go down to P346 million in 2015 from P402 million this year.

"The good news is that the money the National Kidney and Transplant Institute will get from the national government will increase to P429 million from P229 million this year. But this can be raised further," Recto said.

The Philippine Children's Medical Center is also slated to get a budget hike of P22 million, to P386 million in 2015.

In advocating for an increase in the health budget, Recto cited the country's need to work doubletime to meet Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

"In the scorecard to combat malaria, HIV and AIDS; in improving maternal health; in children immunization - we are lagging behind and we have 500 days left to overcome the deficit," Recto said.

"The budget can be used to surmount the arrears in our MDG targets," Recto said.