Friday, April 15, 2011

Universal Health Care: Why Do We Need It?

We have all heard of stories about how a debilitating illness by someone has caused the lifetime savings of a family to disappear due to medical expenses. A mother seeking breast cancer treatment, for example, will need either chemotherapy or surgery or both which can cost a lot of money. A child born with a congenital disease may need immediate surgery to save its life, which can also cost too much. Without any other source of funds, ordinary people cannot bear on their own the expenses that a necessary medical procedure may entail especially for life threatening diseases such as cancer. People who cannot find financial support will suffer when they have to spend everything they’ve got just to get the necessary medical care for their loved ones. That’s why it is important for a society to have some form of universal health care coverage for all its citizens. 

The Right to Medical Care

Health care is a basic human right as declared in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948. Specifically it states that: 

“everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”  
This makes the achievement of universal health care mandatory for all governments of all countries. Health care should be available to everyone regardless of their status in life.  The reality, however, is that the poor cannot afford even the most basic of health care services. On top of that, the high cost of health care can cause bankruptcies to the average income earner. 

It Can Be Done

Universal health care has been done in several countries and their experience can provide some examples to other nations without it. Under this kind of system, it is mandatory for everyone to get health insurance either from their employer, privately through insurance companies or with the help of government subsidies. Singapore is a good example of a very successful universal health care system. It only spends 3% of its annual GDP on health care and yet it currently has the lowest infant mortality rate and the highest life expectancy in the world. The keys to Singapore’s success are its policies of compulsory savings through payroll deductions, nationalized health insurance plan, government subsidies and health care services regulations. 

Health Care Reform

The lack of universal health care can take its toll even to a developed nation. The United States, which spends 16% of GDP on health care, has lagged other industrialized countries in terms of infant mortality and life expectancy. Although it has the most advanced medical facilities and the best trained doctors and nurses, a lot of Americans do not have health insurance. That is why the Obama administration did everything it could to pass a health care reform law in 2010. With this new law, they hope to get every American a health insurance and eventually drive the price of health care down. 

Everything Starts With a Dream

In the Philippines, President Noynoy Aquino made it his goal to achieve universal health care in 3 years’ time. This is an ambitious goal given the fact that there are approximately 25 to 28 million poor Filipinos who cannot afford a health insurance plan. It would mean a massive state subsidy in order to achieve the goal within three years. 

Additionally, I think that PhilHealth (which is the state-run national health insurance) should raise its compulsory contribution so that it can increase the benefit limit for its members. Because if there is a lesson to be learned from Singapore, it is that they demand higher savings from their people for health care which the government matches with subsidies. Nevertheless, this ambitious goal by the Aquino administration is very much welcome and worth pursuing. Universal health care is a basic human right and there is no reason why Filipinos should be denied of it.
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