By Macon Araneta

Voting 18-0, the Senate approved Senate Bill No. 1076, otherwise known as the Malasakit Center Act of 2019, which seeks to institutionalize the establishment of Malasakit Centers in all 73 hospitals run by the Department of Health (DoH).

The bill, authored and sponsored by Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, aims to consolidate the financial assistance provided by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), DoH, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) in one office so that patients or their representatives will save time and resources in availing such assistance from the government. 

“The Malasakit Center is one of the solutions the Duterte government has developed to provide quick and quality access to healthcare to all Filipinos, regardless of their age, sex, ethnic background, religion and political affiliation,” Go said. 

“We laud this august chamber for making this a priority and one of the first legislations to be approved on third reading in the 18th Congress,” he added as the thanked his colleagues in the Senate for the support they gave in passing the measure. 

He also thanked the DoH, DSWD, PCSO, PhilHealth, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and other government agencies for “their cooperation and commitment to ensure the successful implementation” of Malasakit Centers.

At present, Go said there are already 50 Malasakit Centers nationwide serving more than 160,000 patients.

Under Senate Bill No. 1076, hospitals run by local government units (LGUs) and other public hospitals may also establish their own Malasakit Centers provided that they meet a standard set of criteria and guarantee the availability of funds for the operation of their centers, including its maintenance, personnel and staff training, among others.

Go said patients who would be admitted to LGU and other public hospitals but are eligible for medical and financial assistance could also seek assistance from the Malasakit Centers.

One  of the functions of the Malasakit Centers, he said,  would be to provide patient navigation and referral to the health care provider networks. 

He said the centers would also provide patients information with regards to membership, coverage and benefit packages in the National Health Insurance Program. 

The center will also document, process and utilize data from patient experience through a standardized form in order to shape institutional changes in the hospital and provide capacity building and performance evaluation that may ensure good client interaction.

“With the Malasakit Center Act in place to complement the Universal Health Care Law, we are a step closer towards making quality health care more accessible and affordable for all Filipinos, especially the indigent and poor patients in need of medical assistance from the government,” Go said. 

Citing that six in 10 deaths in this country are unattended by a doctor, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto wants a Malasakit Center in, at the least, in DoH-run public hospitals. He said it must not only be centers of wellness but of compassion as well.

“These are access points to financial help, in a one-stop-shop setup, in hospitals themselves,” he said. 

As the National Health Accounts would show, the Senator said funds which can be tapped by these centers would not totally displace the need for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

“Truth be told, they represent a mere fraction but these gateways to assistance tell the people that government is here to help,” said Recto. 

In 2018, total national health spending was PHP799 billion. Of this, almost PHP450 billion was out-of-pocket expenditures of individuals.

In all, government, including PhilHealth, accounted for PHP221.7 billion.

This means that for every health peso spent, 59 centavos came from private pockets, and 32 centavos came from the various instrumentalities of the government.

Not captured by the National Health Accounts are contributions to the Malasakit Centers by PAGCOR and PCSO.