THE House committee on health yesterday approved a measure institutionalizing “Malasakit Centers” in public hospitals run by the Department of Health, more than two weeks after Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the program was being used as a “partisan tool.”
The proposed “Malasakit Program Act,” a project which was initiated by Sen. Christopher Go, seeks to complement the objectives of the Universal Healthcare Act.
Under the substitute bill, all DOH-run hospitals will be required to establish Malasakit Centers, which will function as a one-stop shop inside hospitals where patients can apply for and get medical assistance from different government agencies.
The center will provide patients access to medical and financial aid from the DOH, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), and Office of the President.
Other public hospitals that are not operated by the DOH can also put up Malasakit Centers for as long as local government units (LGUs) can fund it and that DOH requirements are met.
The medical assistance covered under the bill is intended to cover the balance of hospital bills that will not be shouldered by the PhilHealth.
The committee chaired by Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan had to come up with a substitute bill because many bills were filed for the same purpose.
The substitute bill explicitly states that Malasakit Centers “shall be non-partisan, convenient, free of charge, accessible, and shall have a standard system of availment of assistance.”
It requires the DOH, the DSWD, and the PCSO to allocate funds for the Malasakit Centers under their annual national budgets.
Majority leader Martin Romualdez and his wife Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Kittilstvedt, the authors of HB No. 3273, said Malasakit Centers “intend to reduce, if not eliminate, out-of-pocket expenditures of indigent and poor patients and improve assessment for patient assistance and referral to provide much needed system support for patient navigation.”
“This way we can deliver basic services to communities in the most efficient, responsive and sustainable manner,” the couple said.
Under this year’s P3.7 trillion national budget, an allocation of P1 billion was appropriated to fund Malasakit Centers, which Lagman previously said should be investigated “because it is more of a partisan tool than a medical outlet.”
During the campaign period for the May elections, President Duterte credited Go, his longtime aide, for coming up with the idea.
Lagman had noted even the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had to order the DOH to remove Go’s campaign posters which littered government hospitals.
The opposition lawmaker said some of the centers, especially in Albay, were nothing but “mere outlets for referral to the main local offices of the participating agencies where the beneficiaries have to just the same queue in long lines because the representatives in the centers do not have the authority nor discretion to make assessments either for partial or full payment of hospital bill balances.”
Go later slammed Lagman in a privilege speech and went as far as insulting the veteran lawmaker, saying his face was “beyond repair” even by the Malasakit Centers.