BONG GO’S MALASAKIT CENTER BILL BREEZING THROUGH APPROVAL
Malasakit Centers are a step closer to being institutionalized as the Senate conducted a hearing on Tuesday on Senate Bill No. 199, otherwise known as the Malasakit Center Act of 2019, filed by Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go before the 18th Congress opened.
Go wants Malasakit Centers to complement the implementation of Republic Act No. 11223, or the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act.
The senator has been at the forefront of efforts to improve the various medical and healthcare services of the government and making these more accessible and affordable to the ordinary Filipinos.
“With this measure, we can further streamline and expedite the delivery of medical services to Filipinos, especially to those who need them most,” Go said in his opening remarks.
Aside from being the author of the bill, Go also presided over the hearing as the chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography.
Go said Malasakit Centers will address “out-of-pocket expenditures” incurred by patients and members of their family.
“The benefits under the UHC rely on health benefits package as determined by the PhilHealth. As such, out-of-pocket expenditures may still arise if the benefit packages are not enough to cover the medical needs of indigent and poor patients,” he said, adding that this is where the services of Malasakit centers come in.
“In 2017, despite the safety nets of PhilHealth, out-of-pocket payment accounted for 55 percent of health expenditures, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority,” he added.
To date, a total of 41 Malasakit Centers have been established in various parts of the country since the first one was opened in Cebu in February 2018.
Malasakit Centers operate as “one-stop shops” for patients to easily apply for financial assistance from PhilHealth, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Go said he filed Senate Bill No. 199 to “ensure continuity of this program even beyond the Duterte administration.”
He also said if the bill becomes a law, the government will be able to provide additional personnel in each Malasakit Center to cater to the needs of indigent patients nationwide.
At the Senate hearing, Go said he thought of a one-stop-shop medical assistance center due to the “very depressing” plight of patients who need help for their out-of-pocket expenditures.
“Dahil walang iisang opisina kung saan maaaring dumulog ng tulong ang ating mga kababayan, kailangan pa nilang pumila ng pagkahaba-haba sa iba’t ibang ahensya ng gobyerno (Because there is no single office where our countrymen can go to for assistance, they need to line up at the various government offices),” Go said.
In a Malasakit Center, patients need to fill out one request form only, and the request is evaluated by representatives from PhilHealth, PCSO, DOH, and DSWD.
Go said prior to the hearing, he had met with the heads of government agencies involved in the operation of these Malasakit Centers and it was determined that it is more feasible to start with the establishment of Malasakit Centers in all DOH-run hospitals.
Go added that to ensure the quality of service, hospitals run by local government units that wish to establish their own Malasakit Center must meet certain requirements to make sure they have the capacity to implement the initiative and that the centers to be established will be able to respond to the medical needs of their constituents.
Representatives from key government agencies were also asked about their position regarding the proposed measure. The DOH, DBM, DSWD and PhilHealth are all supportive of the bill.
“The DOH would like to express its profound appreciation. The spirit and rationale of the proposed (Malasakit Center bill) seek to make health services responsive and accessible to poor and indigent patients,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
“We support the creation of a Malasakit office (in DOH-run hospitals), but we suggest creation of a director position instead of the proposed Malasakit national director position, and to be appointed by the President to be consistent with Civil Service rules,” said Maria Lourdes Aganon, the assistant director of the System and Productivity Improvement Bureau of the DBM.
“DSWD expresses appreciation for how the Malasakit Center is being done in certain pilot areas. Our patients are now able to go to a center instead of having to go to the different regional offices to get their assistance,” said Luzviminda Ilagan, the DSWD Undersecretary for Policy and Plans.
“PhilHealth interposes no objection on the intention of the (Malasakit Center bill), and we fully support the bill,” said Senior Vice President Israel Francis Pargas.
Ricardo Samaniego, founder and CEO of Philippine Coalition of Consumer Welfare, also expressed his appreciation for the help that Malasakit Center has provided to ordinary Filipinos.
“Ito pong Malasakit Center na inumpisahan niyo ang talagang hinahanap ng mga tao. Ang kagandahan nito, hindi na kailangan ng certificate of indigent. Ang mga pasyente umuutang pa para pumunta sa PCSO, sa Presidente, sa DWSD, pupunta sa politiko. Sa Malasakit Center, mapapabilis at mapopondohan. Ito talaga ang kailangan (The Malasakit Center that you initiated is the one the public needs. What makes this better is that it does not need a certificate of the indigent. The patients are borrowing money just to go to the PCSO, to the President, to the DSWD, to politicians. At Malasakit Centers, this would be facilitated and readily budgeted. This is really what the public needs),” Samaniego said.
Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa also expressed his support for the bill as he recounted that his two-year-old and 10-year-old siblings died from “simple” illnesses because his parents had no access to affordable medicines and healthcare services back then.
“Kung may Malasakit Center lang noon, sigurado ako buhay pa ’yung dalawa kong kapatid. Nakikita ko ngayon mga tao ang daming masaya dahil dito, kaya for the record, full support ako dito sa Malasakit Center (Had there been a Malasakit Center then, for sure my two siblings would be still be alive. I see now that many people are happy because of this and that’s why for the record, I fully support the Malasakit Center bill),” dela Rosa said.
Senators Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Risa Hontiveros, and Nancy Binay also attended the hearing to raise their suggestions on the Malasakit Center bill.
President Rodrigo Duterte has called Malasakit Centers in his past speeches as Go’s “brainchild,” as the initiative started when Go was still the Special Assistant to the President.