Digital Health Apps

Digihealth PH

The House of Representatives swiftly approved on third and final reading three latest revenue-raising bills. Approved one after the other this week at the Lower House, the three revenue measures were included in the administration’s priority legislative agenda pending before the 19th Congress. Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez touted having accomplished this feat even if he has been out of the country most of the time.

The Speaker has joined all the state visits and official trips abroad of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM). A first cousin of PBBM, the Speaker was among the official delegation in the state visits to Indonesia and Singapore in September and the official trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly in October. The Speaker flew again to Singapore while sessions of Congress was on recess and joined PBBM during the controversial weekend trip to watch the 2022 Grand Prix.

Just last week, the Speaker escorted PBBM in the Leaders’ Summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) held in Cambodia. Last Wednesday, he left again as part of PBBM’s official delegation to the on-going Leaders’ Summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Thailand until Nov. 21.

Before he left for Bangkok, the Speaker reported the approval of urgent legislative measures, including the three tax bills. Approved were House Bills (HB) 4339 (Package 4 of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program); 4122 (Value Added Tax on Non-Resident Digital Service Providers); and 4102 (Single-use Plastic Bags Act) which will impose an excise tax of P100 per kilo of disposable plastic bags.

Most likely than not, these new tax impositions will be passed on to us consumers anew.

If only these additional revenues of the government indeed go to its intended beneficiaries, well and good. But take the case of the amended “Sin Tax” Law of 2012. This imposed graduated increases in the tax rates of cigarettes and alcoholic drinks. Specifically, a certain portion of the additional revenue collections from the amended “Sin Tax” Law was earmarked to implement provisions of Republic Act (RA) 11223, or the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act of 2019. The funding for the UHC Act, in turn, strengthens RA 7875, or the National Health Insurance Act of 1995 that created the Philippine Health Insurance (PhilHealth) under the Department of Health (DOH).

But after nine years since the UHC Act took effect, Sections 17 and 18 of this Law have not taken off the ground. This we learned today from Roberto “Obet” Pagdanganan, chairman of the Philippine Virtual Hospital during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum at Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate.

Engaged in digital health applications (apps) e-HealthCore, Pagdanganan disclosed these two important provisions of the UHC Law mandated both the DOH and PhilHealth, in particular, to provide population-based and individual-based health service system. Pagdanganan rued the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in the Philippines in March 2020 apparently became the convenient excuse for the DOH and the PhilHealth for not being able to fully implement these specific provisions of the UHC Law.

Tele-consult and other digital health apps, for short, became the popular mode of people to seek out doctor’s help during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pagdanganan deplored the DOH and PhilHealth failed to implement their mandate under the UHC Law of helping Filipinos with no access to hospitals through digitalized health services platform such as tele-consults.

“We need tele-consult platforms to enable disruptive digital health solutions that are less costly for the people,” Pagdanganan pointed out. “Tele-consult should be institutionalized,” he urged.

The former three-termer Bulacan Governor underscored tele-consult services literally answer the needs of the people living in the so-called geographically isolated and disadvantage areas in the Philippines. For all intents and purposes, Sections 17 and 18 of the UHC Act included tele-consult services of doctors as chargeable and reimbursable as medical expenses covered by the PhilHealth.

Under Section 17 of the UHC Law, “the DOH shall endeavor to contract province-wide and city-wide health systems for the delivery of population-based health services” following three minimum components. These are, namely: (a) Primary care provider network with patient records accessible throughout the health system; (b) Accurate, sensitive, and timely epidemiologic surveillance systems; and, (c) Proactive and effective health promotion programs or campaigns.

On the other hand, Section 18 of the UHC Law mandated “the PhilHealth shall endeavor to contract public, private, or mixed health care provider networks for the delivery of individual-based health services” provided certain conditions. Among other things, the UHC provided that these networks agree to service quality, co-payment/co-insurance, and data submission standards.

Although the COVID-related deaths have significantly gone down, Pagdanganan cited, other “catastrophic illnesses” like tuberculosis, cancer, cardiovascular ailments and other non-communicable diseases have been taking tolls on the lives of Filipinos. According to him, the Philippines has the lowest ratio of 1.2 hospital beds per 1,000 population; seven doctors per 10,000 population; and 8 nurses per 10,000 population.

Pagdanganan reminded the DOH and the PhilHealth that no less than PBBM vowed during his first state of the nation address (SONA) in Congress last July to bring the health and medical services to the most needy Filipinos. However, Pagdanganan warned, this would remain an empty promise if the DOH and the PhilHealth would dilly-dally in fully implementing the digitalized health care services provided for under the UHC Act.

These digital health apps have proven to be effective during the pandemic. Now is the time to promote its use by people for preventive medicine than curative but costlier out-of-pocket medical care in hospitals.