Heed Cuba lessons, boost public health care, DOH urged

September 9, 2016

by IBON Foundation


Research group IBON said that Filipinos will benefit if the government adopts Cuba’s model of a state-run health care system. The group stressed that people’s access to this social service is becoming more limited by Philippine health services being increasingly run by the private sector for profit.

Department of Health (DOH) officials recently toured Cuba, known for its excellent health care system, upon the recommendation of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte. Cuba’s revolutionary health system prioritizes community-based preventive health care while offering a free public health service with among the highest doctor-patient and nurse-patient ratios in the world. This gives it among the lowest infant mortality rates and highest life expectancy rates in the world.

IBON welcomes DOH Secretary Paulyn Ubial’s anchoring her department’s All for Health, Health for All theme on learning lessons from Cuba. But the group said that this necessarily means reversing the government’s neoliberal policy of privatizing health services and turning health into a commodity provided by the market to profit from.

The government’s banner program for “universal health coverage” is the health insurance program PhilHealth which reportedly now benefits 97 million Filipinos. But despite PhilHealth taking up the bulk of the national government’s health budget, 68% of Filipino’s personal health care spending is still paid for out-of-pocket.

Recent IBON surveys found that PhilHealth paid less than half of patients’ health expenses and that 7 of 10 PhilHealth sponsored patients in 2014 were still obliged to buy medical paraphernalia outside the hospital during confinement. Poor patients also lamented public hospitals’ lack of medicines, medical supplies, beds and beddings, dirtiness of toilets and lack of cleanliness.

Health services will become more inaccessible to the poor as more than 70 hospitals nationwide face privatization, IBON noted. The average cost of confinement in a private facility is already Php25,741 which is equivalent to 68 working days considering the average daily basic pay in the country of Php380. Even the average cost in a public health facility of Php8,640 is too expensive and equivalent to almost 23 working days.

The Cuban government guarantees access to quality health care for its entire population. The Philippine government can achieve the same, said IBON, by following Cuba’s example of resisting privatization and establishing an integrated national health system that is exclusively and proudly public, the group said.