Universal Health Care for All Filipinos

August 26, 2010


Universal Health Care for All Filipinos



Universal Health Care for All Filipinos
Dusit Thai


Mr. Reiner Gloor, President of the Philippine Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), PHAP Board of Trustees and Members, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening to everyone. 

Thank you for this invitation to be your Guest of Honor during your General Assembly.  I am very glad to be here and this is my first time to meet the entire membership of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) --- a strong partner of the Department of Health on your various initiatives to make medicines affordable and accessible to the Filipino people.

I assumed office as your Secretary of Health a month ago with this single order from the President: make the dream of universal health care for all Filipinos a reality. This, I believe, shall be the standard by which my performance, and that of the Department of Health, shall be measured at the end of this Administration in 2016.

The challenge of President Benigno Aquino, however, really accelerates the course toward universal healthcare earlier than 2016.   We have an earlier deadline to meet with the tall order coming from the President to achieve a massive expansion in healthcare coverage in three years.  Enroll all the poor by 2013.  Transform Philhealth so that it becomes a real agent of change in the health sector in delivering equitable and quality health services to our countrymen. Reduce out of pocket expenditures which can be as high as 70% to prevent millions of families from continually falling into the cracks of poverty when they get seriously ill.

Thus, in three years, we will aim to hit the target of at least 85% Philhealth coverage.  We will also deepen the protection provided by Philhealth by improving benefit packages for inpatient and outpatient services. We will spend more for services that are relevant to our needs and attuned with our goals of fighting poverty and improving the quality of care across the entire service.  All these must be achieved knowing very well that they will exact vast changes in the organization of health services, the modernization of our operations and reinventing how we pay and deal with local governments, hospitals and healthcare providers. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me take this opportunity to recognize the efforts of PHAP in the last two years in taking the difficult road of reform with the DOH to better provide medicines for our people.  The last two years have been extraordinary with the passage of two major health legislations --- the Universally Accessible, Affordable Quality Medicines Act of 2008 and the Food and Drug Administration Law of 2009.  Those two years also saw the development of more fruitful relations between government and industry with PHAP, through no less than Mr. Reiner Gloor, actively attending the forums and consultation meetings called upon by DOH to put forward recommendations for issues surrounding medicines and even the agenda of universal healthcare.  On this note, let me thank PHAP for your continuous support and active participation during Price Advisory Council meetings and your inputs to the proposed IRR of the FDA Law as well as the Philippine Medicines Policy of 2010. 

More importantly, I thank you for rallying behind government efforts to implement the Cheaper Medicines Act and humbly bowing to the enforcement of the Law.  Implementing the two rounds of price reductions has been a tough act for Government but more so for the industry to do their part and brave the challenge of  making medicines more affordable to the poor though we did not know the uncertainties that this might bring to the market.  Together, we have made a strong case for partnership.  We changed the rules of the game and proved that there can be a middle ground for government and industry to achieve our shared responsibility of making medicines not just a privilege of the few but a freedom available for all Filipinos.

But we know now that price cuts are not the only answer to the problem of delivering medicines and care to our poor.   Especially after the results of our monitoring showed that volume of sales appears to NOT have significantly gone up for the drugs that we have targeted and that the poor --- the lower income brackets of our society --- still cannot access and afford the medicines despite major price reductions. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Government knows that we must move beyond patchwork solutions and resolve to address the monumental challenges of our health system.  We must respond more extensively commensurate to the scale of the challenge of truly delivering Universal Health Care.   We know, too, that it is impossible for Government to do this alone. There will never be enough resources and only a willingness to take collective responsibility from all sectors and the civil society…from our leaders to the common Filipino… can finally get us on track of Universal Health Care.  We must uphold the principle of primary healthcare where people and communities act together in full responsibility and where they are the resource of their own health.

Also none of the Goals that we have set for ourselves to achieve universal coverage for all Flipinos can be achieved by DOH or Philheath alone.  Though we may have the highest political will, success is simply not possible if effective linkages are not there especially with the private sector.  Thus, the President has enunciated the establishment of public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a means to address the pressing needs of our countrymen. In medicines access, I wish to thank you for efforts to pursue philanthropic activities and drug donations with the industry such as what we are doing for neglected diseases such as leprosy and filariasis.   We also have many innovative partnerships to educate our consumers and to boost government’s generics advocacy.

In this meeting, I appeal to PHAP to continue working with DOH with the same eagerness, vigor and transparency as you have done in the past years so that we can take advantage of the gains that we have already achieved in improving access to medicines for our poor.  Universal access to medicines is an indispensable component of universal health care. I assure you that the   current Administration is fully committed and engaged to the principles and ideals of good governance in the effective delivery of healthcare in the country.  Good governance will be the arrow head of our reforms as expressed and exemplified by no less than President Aquino.

In one month, we shall finally be signing the IRR of the FDA law of 2009 and the reforms espoused therein shall allow us to become more responsive to the needs of our people and the industry.  The Law provides a structure and a system that is time- and situation-responsive.  Full income retention means we can now invest in new infrastructure and equipment for our FDA Satellites and the FDA regional hubs.  We can also recruit and train more employees and fill the hundreds of vacancies across the FDA.  This shall increase our regulatory visibility and strengthen post-marketing surveillance activities.

With the new FDA, we shall operate with adaptive efficiency and greater transparency. We will shorten the time lines for our work processes.  Requirements shall be clearly understood, mistakes are reduced and also, transaction costs are put to the minimum. 

Ladies and gentlemen, presently, the Department of Health is also revising the National Drug Policy into the proposed Philippine Medicines Policy of 2010.  This is in response to the need for a recalibrated strategy to protect public health given the changes in health care, that are happening locally and all over the world.  It will be our roadmap in closing the medicines access gap in the country for the medium and long-term… and also a blueprint for DOH in engaging with industry and other stakeholders through so-called public-private partnerships for health.

For example, in the days to come, the DOH shall be launching and expanding medicines access programs for priority diseases and for vulnerable and special populations.

With collaborative partnerships, we shall recognize the role of the industry as part of the engine for economic development, as a contributor in fighting poverty, as a source of employment, and as a provider of quality and affordable drugs for our people.   Together, we can do and achieve more. We can build a robust regulatory environment that is fair and transparent to everyone.  At the same time, we can nurture an investment climate conducive to the industry so that you can continuously provide medicines compatible with our country’s health needs.

As we all aspire to make the dream of universal health care for all Filipinos, I am confident that the continued and unqualified support of the Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Association of the Philippines.

Thank you very much and good evening!