MANILA, Philippines -- Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has urged members of the informal sector to enroll in health insurance plans, saying their work makes them more vulnerable to accidents.
Speaking at a forum on health insurance, Duque said on Thursday most of the members of the informal sector --- which he said accounts for half of the country's economy --- were vulnerable and prone to occupational hazards.
"A medical shock can push sidewalk vendors, home-based workers, small transport operators, small-scale farmers and fisherfolks to greater poverty," Duque said.
At least 15.5 million of the Filipino labor force are in the informal economy and only about 45 percent of them are covered by PhilHealth as of December 2006, according to the health secretary.
Acting Philippine Health Insurance Corporation president and chief executive officer Lorna Fajardo said they were pursuing one of the agency?s goals of universal coverage.
In 2005, PhilHealth launched the Kalusugan Sigurado at Abot-kaya sa PhilHealth Insurance (Kasapi) initiative where it partnered with cooperatives, microfinance groups and other organizations in offering health insurance packages to people.
The initiative is "a strategy dedicated to boosting and sustaining [health insurance] enrollment among informal economy workers," according to PhilHealth. Today, 13 organizations, mostly cooperatives, have forged links with Kasapi.
Duque, former president of PhilHealth, said unexpected spending often drained household coffers which affected a family's budget on necessities.
"Money spent for hospitalization and treatment can deplete income for basic needs and necessities," Duque said. "Meager savings are often depleted to cover the costs of medical care accompanied by a massive reduction of household consumption, the liquidation of household assets (among other factors)."
Citing a World Health Organization report released in 2004, Duque pointed out that an estimated 178 million people may suffer from financial catastrophe as a result of out-of-pocket health expenses per year and 104 million are forced into poverty for health payments.
Duque explained that health insurance coverage would protect "households from the financial impact of illness."
PhilHealth offers the Individually Paying Program (IPP) where a member can enjoy healthcare privileges. The program accounts for 13.4 percent of the total number of beneficiaries enrolled at PhilHealth.
According to a fact sheet from PhilHealth, the IPP, however, "suffers high adverse selection due to its voluntary nature" and only one third of its members pay regularly.
The health secretary described the PhilHealth as the most affordable health insurance package in the country today, with a family plan for P1,200 per year. With the Kasapi program in place, members could avail of more flexible payment schemes through a Kasapi-affiliated microfinance institution or cooperative.
Prevailing private health insurance package prices, however, range as high as at least P23,000 per year.
Participants in Thursday's forum included representatives from the Insurance Commission, and Departments of Labor, Finance and Health, among other stakeholders.