Bill to institutionalize Malasakit Centers
Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon (The Freeman) - September 22, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  Malasakit Centers are a step closer to being institutionalized as the Senate recently conducted a hearing on Senate Bill No. 199, otherwise known as the Malasakit Center Act of 2019.

The Malasakit Center will complement the implementation of Republic Act No. 11223, or the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act, if enacted into law.

"With this measure, we can further streamline and expedite the delivery of medical services to Filipinos, especially to those who need them most," Senator Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go said.

Aside from being the author of the bill, Go also presided the hearing as the chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography.

Go said that 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 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.

"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," Go added.

So far, 41 Malasakit Centers have been established in the different 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 various government agencies such as PhilHealth, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Go said that he filed Senate Bill No. 199 to "ensure continuity of this program even beyond the Duterte administration."

He also said that 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 that 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.

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 that 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 quality of service, hospitals run by local government units that wish to establish their own Malasakit Center must meet certain requirements in order 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 on their position regarding the proposed measure.

The Department of Health, Department of Budget and Finance, Department of Social Welfare and Development and PhilHealth are all supportive of the bill. — GAN (FREEMAN)

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