MANILA, February 3, 2004
(STAR) President Arroyo formally launched yesterday the P3-billion universal health insurance coverage that would provide either free or subsidized hospitalization and other medical assistance to government and private sector employees and indigent families.

Mrs. Arroyo provided the funding for the program under Executive Order No. 276, which she issued to finance the government-subsidized universal health insurance coverage of all Filipinos.

The President announced this issuance of EO 276 in her speech yesterday at the formal launching of the PhilHealth Universal Insurance Coverage at the first national convention of the Philippine Social Security Association (PILSSA) at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) on Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City.

"For the head of the family, one day of sickness is one day without food for the family," the President said. "The objective of the ordinary Filipino is health, so I signed EO 276."

The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) replaced the Medicare system and was created under the National Health Insurance Act of 1995.

PhilHealth is mandated to provide health insurance coverage for all Filipinos and has been working toward this goal since its inception.

The President said this government health care subsidy program is another "installment" of her three-year presidency to respond to the needs of "ordinary Filipinos," most of whom cannot afford the rising cost of health care.

"Today, we’re also launching a new service for the Filipino families — universal family health insurance — because, in my short period of presidency, we reached majority of families covered by health insurance," she said.

All families and individuals covered by family health insurance or PhilHealth "will be given either free or subsidized hospitalization, depending on how big expenses are, including rooms, doctors, laboratory, medicines, x-ray (and) operations, if need be," the President said.

"The truth is hard to face about the lack of availability or access to health services, but now we are facing it squarely," the President said. She also said "we must follow this up with a number of other down-payments. "

Under EO 276, the President directed the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), PhilHealth, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and other concerned government agencies to help identify poor families to be included in this program.

In order to "graduate from majority coverage to universal coverage, we shall put fund to this of P3 billion, half would come from the PCSO and half from the national government, which has budgetary outlay that we expanded in 2004 financial assistance to local government units as subsidy for health insurance premiums for indigents," she said.

The President justified the subsidy allocated by the national government for this universal health insurance coverage, saying the "actuarial" conditions of both the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the Social Security System (SSS) are not enough to provide the needed funding for their members nationwide.

"The best way of helping the poor through social security will be by shoring up the finances of all these social security agencies... by pursuing investments and employment program so that more employees can pay the premium," she said.

"We have made a strong start in just this short period of my presidency to undo the economic and political mess that we inherited," she said.

The President, who seeks a full six-year term in the May elections, highlighted the accomplishments of her administration over the past three years. Under the Arroyo administration, over three million jobs were created as a result of the 23-percent increase in new investments in the Philippines.

She cited a report of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) on investment in the country’s economic zones, which surged 400 percent in January 2004. Investments rose from P1.8 billion in January 2003 to 9.5 billion in January this year, according to the PEZA report.

This surge in investments, she said, is "strong, positive support of our strong economic platform. In the coming months and years, this will give more jobs, so more can pay (their SSS premiums)." The President also expressed the hope that "when the time comes... the actuarial soundness will add more benefits."

"Right now, we must meet the needs of ordinary Filipinos," she said appealing to health insurance agencies. "We must bring health insurance to all families. In this I hope to be able to count on your support... together, let’s secure the future of the average Filipino."

While SSS members are still waiting for the agency to "put in order their actuarial soundness after past bad investments it inherited" from previous administrations, the President lauded the SSS headed by Cora dela Paz for coming up with its "Pensioners’ Day" project.

The new SSS project was launched Friday at the SSS head office along East Avenue in Quezon City. It provides free medical and social services to SSS pensioners every last Friday of the month and will be replicated in other SSS hubs.

"This is a big help for pensioners," the President said. "I thank SSS that while you are still trying to put order to your actuarial soundness, you (found a way to) help our pensioners."

Meanwhile, the President told GSIS officials led by GSIS general manager Winston Garcia to speed up completion of the agency’s computerized pension and loan program management system to totally wipe out the backlog of claims, which has been a source of complaint for GSIS members.

From the PICC, the President went to the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center (JRMMC) on Rizal Avenue in Sta. Cruz, Manila where she distributed PhilHealth cards bearing her photograph to indigent patients being treated at the government hospital.

She was assisted by Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit, PCSO general manager Livia Singson-de Leon and JRMMC director Dr. Alicia Reyes.

The President visited the sickbeds of ten patients at the hospital’s emergency ward and spoke briefly with each patient and members of their families.

The President’s visit to JRMMC was aired over RPN-9 television under the auspices of PhilHealth and the PCSO. — Marichu Villanueva, Sheila Crisostomo

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved