Thursday, September 14, 2017

Duterte has completely given up on independent foreign policy – health group


Health Alliance for Democracy together with progressive organizations today trooped to the US Embassy to protest their continued imperialist intervention in the country, in commemoration of the 1991 Senate vote to reject the extension of a US bases treaty.

“At this point, Duterte has completely rejected the prospect of an independent foreign policy,” said HEAD secretary-general Dr. Joseph Carabeo.

This time last year, progressive groups staged protest actions in support of the president’s then-pronouncements against US political and military intervention. “But now, Duterte has accommodated their troops, instigated fear and Islamophobia against the Moro people, and implemented the US-imperialist agenda in Mindanao and throughout the country through his counterinsurgency program,” continued Carabeo.

Duterte’s pandering to the US imperialist and fascist agenda continues through the House-approved national budget railroaded by his majority coalition.
Carabeo observed that the 2018 budget sees cuts for institutions key for social services and the protection of civil liberties, such as public hospitals, state colleges and universities, and the Commission of Human Rights. Meanwhile, billions of pesos will fund AFP-bred paramilitary groups that have targeted progressives and activists, the president’s inflated personal intelligence fund, and community-surveillance program MASA MASID.

“By this, Duterte is covering all his bases and is laying the groundwork to be no different, if not a fascist worse than his predecessors. And that includes Marcos,” Carabeo said.

It is thus up to the Filipino people to stand against the US-Duterte regime’s impending dictatorship, to continue the struggle for an independent foreign policy and a just society. “HEAD is joining the broad movement against tyranny and will march to Luneta on September 21,” Carabeo ended. ##

Health group supports Makabayan block split from House majority

PRESS STATEMENT | September 14, 2017

Health workers and professionals under Health Alliance for Democracy today laud the Makabayan lawmakers for fighting for the people’s interest as they separate from the Majority Coalition in the House of Representatives, Thursday.

“The seven party-list representatives have been relentless in their opposition to policies of the Duterte administration espoused in congress by the House Majority, which corporatize and commodify health care,” HEAD secretary-general Dr. Joseph Carabeo said. To the best of their ability, they fought against the 2017 and 2018 budget cuts to public hospitals and preventive health programs, revealed the inflated PhilHealth budget, and stood ground against the anti-poor Universal Health Coverage Bill.

The Makabayan coalition, composed of 7 lawmakers from different partylists, sever ties with
the Duterte-faithful House majority. Photo by Obet de Castro.
“Despite the persistent railroading, Makabayan stood against the majority bloc’s anti-poor and repressive actions such as the death penalty bill, national ID system, tax reform program, defunding of the Commission of Human Rights, and the declaration and extension of Martial Law in Mindanao,” added Carabeo.

Now that Duterte with his cronies in Congress has revealed himself as a true fascist and is laying the groundwork for a dictatorship, the health sector sees right that the Makabayan bloc sever relations with them. “The health sector and the Filipino people will be together with them in opposing the fascist, imperialist and anti-people US-Duterte regime,” Carabeo ended. ##

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Health Group Cries Robbery with Planned PhilHealth Premium Increase

"PhilHealth has already been a scam, and any big increase in contributions would be outright robbery," said Dr. Joseph M. Carabeo, secretary-general of Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD). "This planned contribution increase from P200 to P275 despite its ballooning budget of P57 billion in 2018 should cause an outcry."

"From 2011 to 2017, Philhealth's share in the country's total health expenditure remained low at 11%, while our out-of-pocket expenditure remained high at 50%," Carabeo quipped. This is despite PhilHealth's increase in paid premiums (P1200 to P2400 annually in 2011) and government funding (PhilHealth budget of P3.5 billion in 2011 to P53 billion in 2017).



"A strengthened and more institutionalized PhilHealth, to be renamed as the Philippine Health Security Corporation, is the primary goal of the Universal Health Coverage Bill. The bill is deceptive and should be junked," Carabeo added.

"PhilHealth is run as a corporation, and from healthcare as a right, health is now translated into calculated and ever-limited benefits," added Carabeo. Their preoccupation will be more of the corporation's "survival" with a steady reserve fund for investment, especially funding its top heavy corporate managers and its entire new layer of bureaucracy for the lure of private efficiency.

In the actual setting, government-owned hospitals perennially suffer annual budget cuts and almost always lack basic supplies and medicine. This forces PhilHealth card bearing members to buy at drug stores outside the hospital. The No Balance Billing scheme does not cover pre- and post-hospitalized procedures either. Meanwhile, paying PhilHealth members practically get only discounts (e.g. case rates) and pay the rest of the balance either by themselves or via an additional private health insurance.

The people aspire for a free, comprehensive public healthcare with government taking the primary responsibility. Instead, the government has continually reneged on this and turned to health insurance premiums through so-called risk sharing/solidarity mechanisms.

"Practically, this means instituting more fees for services and a plea for more private participation—privatization! This is robbery in the simplest terms," Carabeo lamented. "We therefore call on the people to resist any increase in the PHilHealth premiums, to demand that instead of hefty government subsidies to PhilHealth, these be diverted to increased budget to government hospital operations and direct public health services," Carabeo ended.##

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Nothing "universal" about proposed universal health coverage bill – HEAD

"It's befuddling why government policy insists on universal health coverage as a financing scheme and pours billions of people's money to PhilHealth, even as the corporation continues to be ineffective in decreasing Filipinos' out-of-pocket spending and covering all their health costs," said Health Alliance for Democracy secretary general Dr. Joseph Carabeo on the recent passing of the bill in congress. "The Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Bill will not universalize access to health care."

Under the proposed UHC bill, PhilHealth will be renamed as the Philippine Health Security Corporation (PHSC) and will be the "national purchaser" of health services. Coupled with the mandatory enrollment of all citizens to PHSC, this will ensure that aside from their taxes, everyone will have shell out more money to pay for their health needs through their P2,400-worth mandated contributions.

From 2011 to 2017, PhilHealth has enjoyed a steady increase in funding, with last year's allocation as its highest ever at P53 billion – more than 15 times its 2011 budget of 3.5 billion. Its share in the national health budget also increased from 10% in 2011 to 35% in 2017. And yet Filipinos still paid for more than half of their total health expenses out of their own pockets in 2014 (56%), according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. Social insurance paid for only 11%.

The mandatory enrollment will milk profit out of Filipinos with measly wages and unsteady sources of income. In the proposed bill, contributory members will include regular employees and those from the informal sector, such as contractual employees and small-time vendors. Even overseas workers who already have insurance abroad will not be spared from the mandated contribution.

The UHC bill expressly states that only certain benefits included in a "positive-list" will be covered by the PHSC. The PHSC will determine if the benefits to be covered will maintain the financial sustainability of the corporation. Therefore, if a service that patients need is not included in the list of benefits, they will have to pay for it. "How can they call this universal health coverage?" remarked Carabeo.

Finally, it will not be the Department of Health (DOH), but the PHSC as a corporation, which will ensure the quality of care, appropriateness of services, financial protection – for as long as it is financially sustainable and will return its investments. The DOH will fade into the background as a technical adviser with no real power. It is by this virtue that health care in the country will be corporatized.

"What is clear here is the responsibility of health services is relegated to an ineffective and inefficient corporation that is geared towards fiscal integrity. Through the UHC bill, health care in the country will be a commodity that must return its investment, and not as a genuine service to the people, a right to be ensured by the government," Carabeo ended. ###

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Activist Doctor Receives Threats Anew

Health Alliance for Democracy strongly condemns the people behind harassment and threats from unknown elements to Dr. Darby Santiago. At 12:52 pm today, Dr. Santiago received his second death threat via text message.

In the past few weeks, Dr. Santiago, Doc Darbs to his patients and friends, has been vocal about hospital budget cuts and decreased budget for preventive health programs for 2018. "This is definitely alarming, in view of the fact that people get killed and get brushed aside because of the 'tokhang' campaign," said Dr. Santiago in his Facebook post. The text message read "Ingat ka. Dumadami atraso mo" from mobile number 09322374703. A few years back, Doc Darbs received a similar text message which read "Isang bala ka lang, ingat ka doc."

In the past months, five doctors have been killed mercilessly by unidentified men; justice still elusive. These killings, along with the growing number of killings perpetrated by state forces, has become a real threat to the common people, even professionals and doctors.

Dr. Darby Santiago is an ophthalmologist who specializes in retinal surgery and serves thousands of patients all around the Philippines. He is the first retina surgeon of the Ilocos Cordillera Region for the past 11 years. He is also a regular board examiner of the Philippine Board of Ophthalmology. Doc Darbs is also an academic professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and De La Salle University College of Medicine. He is the chairperson of Health Alliance for Democracy.

HEAD calls on members of the health sector to be extra vigilant in these times of trouble. Despite harassments and threats, we encourage everyone to be strong and steadfast in their commitment to serve the people. Let us unite in the outrage against these threats to our colleagues. We also call on the public to condemn the brutal killings and unite in the call for justice.##

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Health Groups Gather at the Senate in Support of Judy Taguiwalo

The progressive health sector joins the youth, teachers, the urban poor, workers, and farmers in support of Judy Taguiwalo, current Department of Social Welfare and Development chief. "We highly commend her service to the people, putting them in top priority and rejecting policies that permit corruption and patronage politics," said Dr. Darby Santiago, Health Alliance for Democracy chairperson.

With Judy as DSWD chief, the nation has seen one of the quickest responses from government agencies. Relief goods came quickly despite landslides and road blockades after Typhoon Lawin devastated Cagayan Province. The same was true after a magnitude 6.5 earthquake hit Leyte. DSWD was also one of the first relief teams on site during the Marawi conflict.

Taguiwalo, for most of her time in DSWD, rejected using DSWD funds as pork barrel for senators and congressmen. Patronage politics was out of the question. "This, we believe, is the reason why there are parties and/or individuals, members of the cabinet and militarists, who want her out of President Duterte's cabinet," said Dr. Santiago.

"Judy's rejection as DSWD chief will be a mere replay of what happened with Gina Lopez, who was rejected as Department of Environment and Natural Resources chief after instilling reforms that allowed the department to actually protect the environment," he added.

HEAD believes that the confirmation of Judy Taguiwalo, together with Rafael Mariano of the Department of Agrarian Reform, ultimately benefits the interests of the common people, farmers, and the urban poor. Their track record is proof of their success as public servants. Their rejection, on the other hand, would only serve the interests of the bureaucrats and oligarchs, whose greed is intent on exploiting government funds and laws through these government institutions.

"Upon their rejection from cabinet positions, the Duterte administration will be left with nothing: neither substantial reform nor change for the very same people that Duterte vowed to serve. Whatever achievement the Duterte administration had through these government institutions will be lost," added Dr. Santiago. "It is the coffers of corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, and the oligarchs that would prosper instead."

For these reasons, the health sector continues to support the confirmation of DSWD chief Judy Taguiwalo, and DAR chief Ka Paeng Mariano. The Duterte administration should stop listening to the dictates of the bureaucracy, as well as the whispers of his pro-US militarist officials. Duterte must uphold the interests of the masses. Confirm Judy!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

2018 National Budget for Health: More Money for Curative, Privatized Health Care

The proposed 2018 budget for health is bigger but not necessarily better. According to Health Alliance for Democracy, much of the P164 billion budget is focused on curative rather than on preventive healthcare and will mainly benefit the private sector.



"The Duterte administration inherited many complex health problems that require both short- and long-term solutions," according to Dr. Gene Nisperos, HEAD vice-chair. "But the 2018 health budget does not seem to reflect these solutions."

Once again, the National Health Insurance Corporation, or PhilHealth, will get the lion's share with P57 billion. This represents a 7% increase from its current budget and accounts for 35% of the entire national budget for health.

At the same time, almost all of the hospitals under the Department of Health will suffer an average of 24% cutback in their maintenance and operating expenses. Many will have 30% to 40% cuts.

The DOH-retained hospitals represent the last vestiges of health care services provided by the DOH. With such significant cuts in the budget for the maintenance and operating expenses of these hospitals, the DOH is practically crippling their ability to serve and leaving them to fend for themselves.

Moreover, preventive health programs, including those that focus on significant public health concerns, like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV infections, will be short of P16.7 billion in budget as these suffer a whopping 52% budget cut.

"What does this all mean? That the DOH is allocating more money for curative care, which is more expensive and less cost-effective, rather than on preventive care. For a government that alleges limited resources, this is unsound policy." Nisperos said.

"But the curative care will be provided more by private hospitals and facilities rather than DOH hospitals. Right now, only 37% of hospitals accredited by PhilHealth are government run. So private hospitals and big pharmaceuticals will be grinning their way to the bank as they bilk PhilHealth of its billions," added Nisperos.

For HEAD, the DOH is sending the wrong message: with PhilHealth, the government is now a mere purchaser of health services rather than a provider of it.

"Once more, relevant health services and public health gives way to political expediency. This is the neoliberal program in health. Sadly, the people will be the ones to suffer for it," Nisperos concluded.

Is this really the kind of "legacy" this administration wants to leave?