OPINION: Achieving the same health goal

Teodoro Padilla -- Medicine Matters

Posted at Oct 14 2019 01:04 PM | Updated as of Oct 15 2019 12:42 AM

Composed of 41 local and multinational research-based pharmaceutical companies operating in the country, the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) shares the government’s objective to make quality medicines and healthcare services more affordable and accessible.

To achieve this shared goal, PHAP is reaching out to the government as a partner to make medicines more accessible and widen healthcare services for Filipinos.

In support of the Universal Healthcare Act, the pharmaceutical sector aims to harmonize its efforts with the Department of Health (DOH). PHAP welcomes the signing of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the UHC Act. We believe that the signing of the IRR will pave the way for the implementation of measures that will positively impact the health of the people, especially the poor.

We commend President Rodrigo Duterte, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, and our legislators namely Rep. Angelina Tan and former Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, and legislators in 17th Congress for championing the UHC Act for the Filipino patients.

Coming from UHC, healthcare is being discussed in the context of the Malasakit Center Act of 2019, which aims to institutionalize Malasakit Centers in all accredited public hospitals in the country. Malasakit has no exact translation in English; it roughly translates to “concern”, “empathy” or “compassion”. This beautiful Tagalog word is the apt title of Senator Bong Go’s priority bill, Senate Bill No. 199.

A Malasakit Center is a small booth in public hospitals designed to be a one-stop shop for medical and financial assistance and a health care processing center for patient assistance. The booth is manned by representatives of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and the Department of Health (DOH).

There are currently 38 Malasakit Centers in the country that have provided more than 100,000 patients with hope through medical assistance. Both the UHC Act and the Malasakit Center consider healthcare from a whole-of-society approach, because the task of improving health outcomes is huge. The government needs all the help to ensure the implementation of these undertakings that will positively impact Filipino patients and their families.

There are ways to harmonize government and public sector efforts not just in lowering prices of medicines but also in ensuring that patients are supported throughout their healthcare journey. PHAP members have established patient-support programs with the aim of reducing total healthcare cost beyond just medicines. These programs provide free screening and diagnostic tests, patient education and counseling, and special medicine pricing schemes designed to reduce total treatment cost.

The existing patient-assistance programs can serve as a framework for future expansion of the sector’s proposed partnership with the government, specifically for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, among others.

Examples of current patient-assistance programs include screening efforts like support for free-testing to aid in the diagnosis of patients with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. On the treatment side, there is also an existing patient assistance program where up to 54% discount is given for a breast cancer drug with provision of free medicines for certain cycles.

Beyond the assistance programs of the private sector, it is important to note that countries such as Thailand, Singapore and the United Kingdom, among others, have strong health insurance systems to help their citizens cover healthcare expenses that would otherwise have been paid out-of-pocket. At present, Filipinos pay at least 54% of their healthcare on their own. If more resources are allocated for health, more Filipinos will benefit.

PHAP, composed of providers of life-saving and innovative medicines, is committed to partner with the government for major initiatives to demonstrate our concrete support to government objectives to provide the highest quality of care for all Filipinos.

For example, the UHC Act and National Integrated Cancer Control Act contain provisions that can make medicines more accessible and affordable. These include centrally negotiated procurement, expansion of primary care medicines benefits, early access to innovative medicines, special access schemes from the private sector, health technology assessment, and pooled procurement.

The government, in partnership with the private sector, can successfully implement crucial health efforts such as the UHC and Malasakit Centers. We can work together, achieve exactly the same objectives or even exceed them, and sustain long-term success for the benefit of Filipinos.

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TEODORO B. PADILLA is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). PHAP and its member-companies represent the research-based pharmaceutical and health care industry.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.