Manila, Philippines — Newly appointed Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa on Monday outlined an eight-point “action agenda” for the Department of Health (DOH) under his term, led by the provision of universal health care.
Sworn into office by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on June 6, Herbosa formally took over on Monday from Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, who served as DOH officer in charge for a year.
At his first flag-raising ceremony, Herbosa said the other priorities for the DOH would include providing safe, quality and caring service; using technology for more efficient health services; crisis readiness; disease prevention; promotion of mental and emotional health; promotion of the welfare and rights of health workers; and protection against another pandemic.
Herbosa noted that providing universal health care meant that medical services would become affordable, though not entirely free.
“But if one needs brain surgery or a major heart operation, the government would help if one does not have enough money. That is the essence of universal health care coverage — the poor would not have to sell their house, land, carabao, and means of livelihood,” he pointed out.
The new health chief also said that he found the DOH to be “too regulatory” and wanted the agency to take a “humanistic” approach as it seeks to fully implement the Universal Health Care Act of 2019.
“We will work on higher health worker pay, better recognition, and a clear upward career mobility pathway of local government and health staff,” he said.
Private healthcare workers have also called on the new health secretary to push for an increase in their pay to prevent them from leaving the country.
According to Filipino Nurses United, a nurse at a private hospital in Metro Manila receives a monthly salary of P17,000, or equivalent to the daily minimum wage of P570, while a nurse in a government hospital gets P35,000 under the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002.
Herbosa said he planned to put up a pandemic preparedness center to provide and ensure better training and facilities to handle infectious diseases.
“Actually, many people are telling us we were one of the countries with the better (pandemic) management because of the low death toll—66,000 deaths—while other countries had over a million deaths,” said Herbosa.
Primary care networks
After the turnover ceremonies, Herbosa, as chair of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), led the launch of the country’s first primary care networks in Bataan, Guimaras, Quezon, and South Cotabato provinces and in Baguio City, as well as in LiFE group and the Ayala-led QualiMed.
Meanwhile, 26 unions from different private hospitals demanded transparency in the disbursement of the mandated COVID-19 benefits after Herbosa earlier commended the DOH’s achievement of supposedly distributing 90 percent of these to health workers.
The United Private Hospital Unions of the Philippines (UPHUP), in a statement on Sunday, said that “what is really happening on the ground is starkly incongruent to the data of the DOH.”
UPHUP data showed that 20,304 private healthcare workers who served during the pandemic have not yet received their allowances amounting to P1.94 billion as of April 13 this year, on top of the P1.84 billion in arrears incurred by the previous administration.
—WITH A REPORT FROM ABBY BOISER