Asia-Pacific, Philippines, Human Rights

Medications and Healthcare in the Philippines: A Price that Kills

Getting sick in the Philippines is a nightmare. Not only because you do not feel well but because you have to pay for it. It would have been bearable if the cost of medications and treatment is affordable and if you are doing it short-term, but what if you are reliant on maintenance drugs which cost at least half of your monthly income? What would happen to you?

The reality in the Philippines is that maintenance medications are very expensive. So expensive in fact, that they will cost you about two days of your income and, of course, if you are a minimum wage worker, it would really take a toll on you and your family’s financials.

Healthcare in the Philippines: A Sample Calculation

Take Diabetes medication for example. A prefilled insulin syringe or pen costs about Php 800-900 (about $15-20 USD), not including the price for the blood sugar monitoring kit which is also around Php 2,500 ($45-50 USD), a tablet for hypertension or allergies is at least Php 11 (about $0.22 USD), an asthma inhaler is also about $45-50 USD, and that does not include other tablets or medications you would need.

Calculating the cost for a month of consistent maintenance would give us around $100 USD for Diabetes Insulin and asthma inhalers, USD 13 for hypertension or allergy tablets, given you take it twice for 30 days. But these are just some of the cheapest medications we could think of. There are anti-allergy tablets or topical creams that cost around Php 50-250 ($1-5 USD) per piece which should be taken daily and the creams would last for 5 days only. Just imagine if you were a minimum wage earner who takes home Php 10,000 (USD 200), how much would you have left, given you still need to provide for household spendings?

A very small amount. So, what do Filipinos do? They do not pay attention to medical checkups or take their medications. The reason? “Ang mahaleh” (They are too expensive).

We know that if these medications are not taken seriously, it will lead to worsening conditions that will, eventually, require more expensive treatment and medications. And no, not all companies in the Philippines offer medical assistance and even if medical checkups and hospitalization would be free for medical card holders, the maintenance drugs are never free.

Sentiments Towards Expensive Medications

The question now is how are sick individuals going to be able to be better if they have to rely on medications they can barely afford?

Most people cannot get cured because they cannot afford it! And the result? A population of unhealthy and uncared for individuals that contribute to a lesser life expectancy. And with this, how can we actually look forward to a developed Philippines when trained individuals pass too young? Imagine, today, there are individuals in their mid-20s who die from heart attacks, teenagers who wear prescription glasses, and kids and other ill people who rely on the mercy of social media users by sharing their stories in the hopes that they can get a donation to pay hospitalization.

Based on this, it is not their illness that takes them, it is the price they have to pay to be cured.

A remedy? Some use credit cards or loans from institutions in order to buy medicines. We know how this can end. When the maintenance drugs are all used up before they can pay back their loans, they will be buried in a pile of debt all because they needed to be healthy.

Unfair Healthcare?

The thing is, when these Filipinos get to talk about health with their family based overseas, they discover that healthcare is free abroad, even to immigrants as well as other necessities like education. Though the Philippines collect taxes from personal income, the citizens are not yet experiencing too much of a benefit. Now that income tax for people earning Php 25,000 and below ($500 USD) is finally slashed, it promised a greater purchasing power. Until the news, that additional taxes will be imposed on other commodities -our hope died right there and then.

The Philippines also require a monthly contribution for PhilHealth – which is like a medical insurance for everyone. But the reality is, this insurance barely covers for a day of hospitalization. You cannot be guaranteed a free bill, instead, just a discount. And when it comes to senior citizens, medications are not free as well. However, they do get a 10% discount.

What we need to understand is that inasmuch as we would want to develop economically, we must also think of ways to better ourselves in terms of the citizenry. We need to take care of our people so that we can be able to foster great talents and potential. If the workforce is healthy, greater productivity will follow. However, this type of change cannot be reached immediately. It would need a total reconstruction of the different government services offered.

The Only Solution Right Now

Given all these reasons and that the reality of free healthcare is still a long shot, the only thing Filipinos can do is to save. Or better yet, explore the possibilities of a second source of income.

About Patricia Abrihan

Patricia has always been inspired by the witty yet innocent voice of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird that she believes that writing is able to revolutionize ideas of society. She is a former college instructor from the Philippines and is currently a freelance writer and blogger managing her portfolio. She is open to collaboration and also loves reading and watching movies.

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