2022 Issues that Matter: Health and Social Protection

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns across many parts of the Philippines exacerbated poverty levels in the country as poverty incidence in 2020 rose to 20% of the population or equivalent to about 22 million poor Filipinos (from pre-pandemic figures of about 17.7 million in 2018). The loss of jobs by over 8.7 million Filipinos in April 2020 is also considered a major contributing factor to the sharp increase in poverty incidence. Based on studies by the Philippine Disaster and Resilience Foundation, about 70% of businesses were forced to closed due to the implemented restrictions.

To offset the impact of business closures and increased unemployment, the government increased its expenditure on health and social protection in 2020. Due to financial support given to COVID-19 patients through PhilHealth and dole outs given during the lockdown period, government spending on health and social protection in 2020 increased to 1.06% of GDP (19% increase from previous year); and 2.98% of GDP (139% increase from previous year) respectively. However, our 2020 spending still pales in comparison to our neighboring countries in Asia based on the ADB’s studies where we ranked 15th in spending for health and 11th in social protection out of 16 countries.

Based on several literature on public health, it is recommended that government spending on health care should hover around 5% of GDP. To assist vulnerable individuals and groups, the government is also recommended to accelerate social protection expenditure spending by 4-5% of GDP as part of the country's economic recovery and rehabilitation plan.

A critical part of the recovery, rehabilitation and pandemics mitigation plan of the next administration is to invest heavily on our public health sector and social protection policies and measures. Correlative to this initiative is to find sources of revenue to support the planned increases in allocation to these sectors.

The next administration should be active in its pursuit to increase the minimum salary of nurses both in the public and private sectors to prevent a further brain drain of our medical professionals. Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte filed HB 7659 to establish a minimum wage for nurses in private hospitals. Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Gordon intends to file a bill to amend the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002 which states that the minimum base pay for nurses working in government hospitals and health institutions should start at salary grade 15 or roughly P33,000 per month. While this still pales in comparison to the salaries of nurses in Thailand (Php 55,000/mo.), Malaysia (Php 82,000/mo.), Japan (Php 100,000/mo.) and Singapore (Php 111,000/mo.), there are several entitlements the government can exhaust to provide nurses (hazard pay, allowances) to entice Filipino nurses and other medical professionals to stay put.

In anticipation of future pandemics, the government should also focus on increasing research and development initiatives with the goal of capacitating our existing system to discover and produce vaccines and medicines especially as we experienced supply shortages in COVID19 vaccines and relief medication.

A thorough review of the country's social protection programs must be undertaken by the next administration for a re-prioritization of social protection expenditures and identify stable sources of funding to ensure continuity of effective programs. As a developing country, we cannot be in a perpetual state of providing dole-outs without successful results and outcomes as there are supposedly investments in human capital (i.e., 4Ps program).

There is also a need to review the existing Philhealth benefits package as it currently excludes preventive care, which leads to significant out-of-pocket health expenditures especially among the poor.

 

aOverall, there is a need to comprehensively review the public health and social protection strategy of the government to find gaps, improve effectiveness and ensure efficient utilization of public funds to support various programs. The next President will have his/her hands full in terms of ensuring wider and quality access to health and social protection programs especially for the poor.

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About the Author
Mr. Aaron Benedict De Leon is currently a Business Development Practitioner in a private consulting firm. He has more than six years of professional experience in leading and managing political and non-government organizations, specializing in organizational management, policy development and program management. He has had stints with notable political/socio-civic organizations, serving in various capacities as: Secretary-General of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP) [2013-2015], Founding Chairperson of the Centrist Democratic Youth Association of the Philippines (CDYAP) [2012-2014], Philippine Representative to the International Young Democrat Union (IYDU) [2011-2012], Chairperson of the Christian Democratic Youth [2011-2012], Secretary-General of YOUTH Philippines [2010-2011], and Spokesperson/Communications Director of the GT2010 Gilbert Teodoro Presidential Campaign [2009-2010].
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