MANILA -- Cancer patients can now receive quality health care without financial hardship through the National Integrated Cancer Control (NICC) Act and the Universal Healthcare (UHC) Law, an official of the Department of Health (DOH) said on Monday.
In his speech at the first National Cancer Patient Congress in Quezon City, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the government aims to ease financial burdens of cancer patients and their families by providing assistance for the early detection of the disease.
"Cancer care and prevention begin with the establishment of strong primary health care systems which enables early diagnosis, coupled with the social safety net which provides sufficient financial coverage. This complements the NICC Act which utilizes mechanisms for the state to control quite complex treatment conditions of adult and childhood cancers," he said.
Duque said even before the UHC bill's enactment into law, DOH has been providing medical assistance programs in its hospitals and selected local government hospitals where the public can get free diagnostics and other medicines for cancer.
"The DOH has intensified the Philippine Cancer National Control program which include the establishment of 24/7 cancer centers in various DOH hospitals nationwide. We provide free medicine for breast, childhood and colorectal cancers through our medicines access program," he said.
While stressing that early detection is crucial in lower cancer treatment costs, Duque said DOH offers free breast and cervical cancers screening for women 25 to 55 years old.
"Recognizing that our resources are limited we commit to its judicious use through the institutionalization of the health technology assessment and price negotiation processes. This means for us to afford more conditions we'll be benchmarking our reimbursements to the most cost-effective protocols," he added.
Meanwhile, Cancer Coalition of the Philippines president Paul Perez said more cancer patients will have a fighting chance through the NICC Act regardless of their status in the society.
"Cancer patients and their families can look forward to life's journey with new hope, especially the underprivileged, since they'll now have better access to equitable and affordable cancer treatment and care," he said.
Perez added the law could affect positively the efforts of various cancer awareness groups promoting cancer care prevention and screening and early detection -- and access to palliative care.
On February 14, President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11215 or the NICC Act which institutionalizes a "national integrated" program to control cancer.
Under the new law, the DOH is tasked to provide early and sufficient access to cancer medicines and "ensure highest possible chance of survival among people with cancer".
The law also created the cancer assistance fund which will support the cancer medicine and assistance treatment program and mandated the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation to expand benefit packages for all types and stages of cancer.
Duque said cancer is the second leading cause of deaths among Filipinos for the year 2018 to 2019.
"In the Philippines, after coronary artery disease, it is in the second place and it has gone ahead of cerebrovascular disease as the second leading cause of death among non-communicable diseases," he said.
Signed into law by Duterte on February 20, the UHC law makes all Filipinos members of PhilHealth, either as direct or indirect contributors, providing immediate eligibility and access to preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative care for medical, dental, mental and emergency health services.
"The NICC Act is an important component of the UHC law, there'll be no UHC if there's no cancer care, so it's an important building block of UHC. It is very comprehensive overarching management and treatment care of tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS, malaria, cancer," Duque said. (PNA)