Sen. Risa Hontiveros today warned against a P2.04-billion cut in the 2021 budget of the Department of Health for the operations of accredited public hospitals amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The allocation, Hontiveros said, is crucial for government hospitals to cover the costs of regular operations, including utilities, medicine, diagnostic procedures, intravenous fluids, and other expenses essential to patient care.
“Billions worth of cuts in the middle of a pandemic means we drastically slashed the capacity of government hospitals to provide services and medicines for free. Dahil dito, aakyat pa ang out-of-pocket expenses ng mga tao. This is grossly anti-poor and anti-people,” she said.
The reduction of the budget for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE), Hontiveros said, would also mean the income of 33 national and regional government hospitals would be diverted to compensate for this when it could have gone to procuring more beds and new equipment that we are in dire need of.
Hontiveros added that the country’s 3.31 percent average critical case rate translated to around 588 people hospitalized every week.
She said three hospitals suffered the biggest cuts and were major COVID-19 referral centers in cities that have the highest number of cases in their regions.
Quirino Memorial Medical Center (QMMC) in Quezon City which has the highest number of cases in the Philippines is currently at warning level status at 67.2 percent bed occupancy. Despite this, it was refused P305.48 million for optimal operations, Hontiveros said.
The Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, the biggest hospital in the country which received a P699.2-million budget cut, is currently at full capacity for COVID-19 patients and is filled at 97 percent general ward occupancy.
Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Hospital was also denied P242.19 million despite being a major COVID-19 testing center in Bacolod City.
“Most of these hospitals are in emerging, if not current, hotspot areas. Shouldn’t common sense tell us that when the threat is rising, we provide reinforcement? We don’t know when this pandemic will end, so our hospitals have to be ever-ready to deal with the influx of patients,” she said.
“Sa pinakamalalang (to the most affected) health emergency na ito, we have no choice but to give these hospitals what they need. The consequences could prove fatal. Many might die because they were refused care when they needed it the most. This can be prevented if we channel funds wisely,” she said,
Hontiveros added that alongside reduced hospital operation funds, the budget for Prevention and Control of Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases was also refused a massive P10 billion. “Pinilay nga natin ang pondo para sa prevention, pipilayin pa natin lalo ‘yung budget para sa pagpapagamot (Aside from disabling the funds for prevention, the funds for medical expenditures were also disabled),” she said.
“Hindi tayo puwedeng basta-basta lang (we should not be on a ‘business-as-usual’ (attitude). Our hospitals need to be extremely fortified to deal with the rising number of cases. We also need to take into account non-COVID patients who need attention,” she said. “Hindi porke’t may COVID-19 ay nawala na ang ibang sakit, kaya dapat pinapatapang natin ang budget para sa matinding laban na ito (Aside from COVID-19, we should also take care of other medical ailments).”
Hontiveros had earlier pushed for a P48.7-billion increase for the DoH’s total budget to “prepare the country to transition to the new normal in 2021.”
“Our current budget pretends that we aren’t in the biggest health crisis of our lifetimes. Let’s show that we care for Filipinos by ensuring that the taxes we pay go straight to our health and wellbeing,” she added.