By Leonardo O. Aromin
Phoenix, Az- Filipino doctors in the U.S. have a “sigh of relief” when the Professional Regulations Commission (PRC) of the Philippines “has suspended two controversial provisions” that have been the subject of vehement objection and protest of Filipino doctors and other medical practitioners in the U.S.
The bone of contention is a regulation that increased the permit fees of foreign medical professionals and the requirement for foreign medical professionals to have a malpractice medical insurance during the conduct of medical missions in the Philippines.
Dr. Conrad Ballecer, Jr. , the head of the Medical Mission Committee of the Phoenix PhilAm Lions Club told The Filipino American Journal that the “suspension of the rules was a big sigh of relief for us” because “we are already planning to postpone our projected medical mission to the Philippines” because of the very restrictive rules that were recently adopted by the PRC on the conduct of medical missions.
“It is just incredibly pathetic if not downright absurd that the PRC has issued these new requirements for foreign medical missions on top of already voluminous requirements,” said Ballecer who has been in the forefront in heading medical missions to the Philippines of medical practitioners from Arizona through the PhilAm Phoenix Lions Club.
The Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) has passed resolution on June 21, 2012 a new set of requirements regarding fees, admin civil penal sanctions and the need for liability malpractice insurance by foreign medical professionals who are conducting humanitarian medical missions in the Philippines,
The new rules have set a series of firestorms among Filipino doctors and other medical practitioners in the U.S.; those who are engaged in medical missions in the Philippines.
Writing about his strong objection against the PRC rules, to Dr. Cesar Candari, a FilAm doctor in Nevada said “the leaders of various Alumni and Physician organizations in America are in shock, obviously disappointed, and outrage of the PRC regulations. Some missionaries have been disheartened and rebutting the issues.”
“I cannot fathom what drove the PRC to come up with these more restrictive and maybe prohibitive measures that I am sure will discourage a lot of well-meaning and well-intentioned medical missions,” Dr. Ballecer told The Filipino American Journal – even as he disclosed that “the Phoenix PhilAm Lions Club is planning another cataract mission to Angono, Rizal where the beneficiaries would be squatters of Angono and Binangonan, Rizal.”
“It is sad, disgusting, and discouraging for us Filipinos in the U.S. to field medical missions to help our kababayans – with these new rules,” said Ethel Luzario, former president of the Phoenix PhilAm Lions Club, a service association that has been regularly sending medical missions to the Philippines.
The more controversial provisions of the new PRC rules include a requirement for a medical mission volunteer to pay P3,000.00 for Special Temporary Permit and P8,000.00 for the issuance of a Special Temporary Permit ID – which in a dollar value is equivalent to approximately $300.00.
In addition, a medical doctor volunteer is also required to purchase liability medical insurance in the Philippines.
Assailing the new rules, Luzario said, “We normally bring three surgeons with us whenever Phoenix Phil-Am Lions Club conducts its every other year medical mission to the Philippines. In addition, we have about 4-5 anesthesiologists and 8-10 nurses so this will translate to $300 per professional and collectively $4,500 for 15 professionals.”
Luzario said, “the professionals volunteer their time to help the poorest of the poor who cannot afford the eye cataract surgeries. They are losing income while they’re gone so I don’t understand the logic of paying for permit fees to practice their profession when they are giving it freely!”
Dr. Jun Rasul, a FilAm doctor who is based in Washington DC said “the PRC resolution goes against the spirit of Balikbayan Program which was encouraged by the Philippine government in 1970s and does not promote or encourage overseas Filipinos to come home and rfender service or share innovations and knowledge with the local population.”
Sharing his views during an internet discussion among Filipino doctors in America, Rasul also said “for those wishing to return home and practice, the penalties serve to discourage the reintegration process.”
Dr. Juan Montero of Virginia said “To me this is R.I.P. to our enviable, proud tradition of giving back to our less fortunate fellow countrymen” while Dr. Zorayda Lee-Llacer of Maryland said, “When the requirement becomes too difficult, less physicians will volunteer their time to join medical missions.”
In an article analyzing the effect of the newly promulgated PRC rules, Dr. Cesar Candari of Henderson Nevada said “Several missionary groups have cancelled their forthcoming Medical Mission…we feel we are unwanted…subjected to superfluous admin, civil, criminal & malpractice liabilities. We do not wish to be subjected to unscrupulous/frivolous medical lawsuits in our humanitarian medical services.”
In an official letter of Secretary Imelda M. Nicolas of the Commission of Filipinos Overseas (CFO) – a copy of which is obtained by The Filipino American Journal through Dr. Jun Rasul of Washington DC, she said “the PRC is suspending immediately the implementation of Sections 5 and 17 of the PRC Resolution.”
Section 5 of the PRC Resolution provides for an increase in the payment of fees for the issuance of special temporary permits while Section 17 requires the need to acquire liability insurance.
In her letter, Secretary Nicolas said, “if you would recall, you have expressed your vehement objection to several provisions of the PRC Resolution,” and that “a meeting was held among representatives of the CFO, Department of Health, DILG and the PRC.”
“During the meeting, the PRC announced the immediate suspension of the implementation of Sections 5 and 17 of the PRC Resolutions,” Secretary Nicolas said in her letter.
She also appealed to organizers of medical missions “ not to cancel your scheduled medical missions to the Philippines” even as she urged them to proceed with their applications and “just follow all the required procedures and documents as required by an administrative order” in the conduct of medical missions in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, the Association of Philippine Physicians and Allied Professional of Arizona (APPAPA) is gearing for its surgical, dental and medical mission in Manila on October 8-12, 2012.
APPAPA President Dr. Robert Sebastian told The Filipino American Journal that the goal of the medical mission “is to surgically repair cleft lips/palates on the poorest if the poor who otherwise could not afford to pay for such a procedure.”
“We also plan on treating 500 to 1,000 dental patients and 500-1000 medical patients,” Dr. Sebastian said.
The medical and surgical teams are composed of physicians trained at Harvard Medical Center, Dr. Ernest C. Lee and Dr. Robert Sebastian.
Other members of the team are: Dr. Kerry Latham, a plastic surgeon who is a professor of surgery of a large tertiary institute and Dr. Santi Lardizabal, an anesthesiologist in Arizona.
Dr. Sebastian said the APPAPA is linking up with approximately 60 Philippine-based nurses, physicians, dentists, pharmacists, and health technicians to ensure success of the medical mission.
He said they have likewise networked with the Professional Regulations Commission, the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) and the Department of Health to ensure that all requirements shall be complied with. (FAJ Aromin)
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Health Secretary Ona meets with Filipino doctors in Phoenix
By Leonardo O. Aromin
Phoenix, Arizona (FAJ) – The Philippines is embarking on a universal health care program that is envisioned “to provide every Filipino the highest possible quality of health care that is accessible, efficient, equitably distributed, adequately funded, fairly finance, and appropriately used by an informed and empowered public.”
This was revealed by Health Secretary Enrique Ona during his dialogue with Filipino doctors and other Filipino community leaders on August 26 at the headquarters of The 3000 Club in Phoenix.
Secretary Ona said, “It is a government mandate aiming to ensure that every Filipino shall receive affordable and quality health benefits. This involves providing adequate resources – health human resources, health facilities, and health financing.”
Secretary Ona was on a personal visit in Arizona where he visited his son, who is a doctor at the Yavapai Regional Medical Center in Prescott, Arizona.
He was invited by the Filipino doctors in Phoenix through Dr. Nelson Villamor because of some issues on the conduct medical mission to the Philippines where the Philippine Regulations Commission (PRC) has imposed what Filipino doctors in America described as “restrictive and absurd rules on the conduct of medical missions to the Philippines.”
Responding to a barrage of petitions and negative reactions of the medical practitioners and those who have been engaged in medical missions to the Philippines, the PRC has “suspended the controversial rules” on August 12.
“I did not know that the rules have created a lot of controversy here in the U.S.,” Secretary Ona told the community leaders during the dialogue.
He asked the Filipino doctors to give him and the Department of Health some time to “streamline the rules on the conduct of medical missions to the Philippines.”
Those who have been engaged in medical missions have been complaining about the voluminous documents that have to be accomplished and submitted to some agencies in the Philippines.
Dr. Conrad Ballecer, Jr., head of the Medical Mission Committee of the Phoenix PhilAm Lions Club told Secretary Ona that their planned cataract medical mission to Angono Rizal in February next year may be in jeopardy “because the Philippine Association of Ophthalmologists (PAO) has taken its sweet time in approving its request for the medical mission.”
Ballecer explained that the medical equipment to be used during the medical mission next year would be in jeopardy “if the private agency that is tasked to approve our request shall not act on time.”
Ona assured the community leaders that he will look into the problem once he gets back to the Philippines.
Another group, the Association of Philippine Physicians and Allied Professionals in Arizona (APPAPA) is leaving for the Philippines in October this year for a medical mission in Manila.
APPAPA president Dr. Robert Sebastian also informed Secretary Ona of some red tapes that their group has been encountering regarding the sending of medical supplies and medical equipment that they are donating during their medical mission in Manila.
Aside from the Filipino doctors, the dialogue was also attended by members of the Phoenix PhilAm Lions Club headed by James Cox and Ethel Luzario, the Chief Executive Officer of The 3000 Club.
During the dialogue, Secretary Ona disclosed that the Aquino administration “is doing its best to deliver the much-needed medical services to the Filipinos especially to the poor segment of the population which is estimated to have reached 40 million.”
“The government is spending some P2.6 billion for government hospitals which include 37 Regional Medical Centers, 100 Provincial Hospitals, 403 District Hospitals and more than 2,000 rural health centers,” Secretary said.
He said that by the end of 2013, “we could have covered all the doctor-less localities in the country.”
Secretary Ona also said that “the Philippines is lagging behind from other Asian countries in terms of hospital facilities for every 10,000 population,” which according to the standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO), “there should be 20 to 27 hospital beds for every 10,000 population.”
The Philippines, he said, has but “8 hospital beds for every 10,000 Filipinos” as compared to China (30), Vietnam (28) and Thailand (22). Other countries like Indonesia has 6, Nigeria, 5, Afghanistan, 4 and Bangladesh,4. The United States has 31 hospital beds for every 10,000 Americans.
Ona also said that the government through the Department of Health is set to activate 100,000 Community Health Workers and employ some 27,500 nurses “in order to improve the delivery of health services to the poorest of the poor.”
He told the Filipino doctors and community leaders “there will always be a need for medical missions” in order to augment what we are doing even as he disclosed that the Department of Health “is set to improve and streamline the rules and procedures in the conduct of medical missions to the Philippines.”
Dr. Conrad Ballecer, Jr., head of the Medical Mission Committee of the Phoenix PhilAm Lions Club said’ “I came away impressed with his sincerity, intelligence and compassion specially for the poorest of the poor of the Phil. I was really awed by his statement when he said that medical missions will always be needed in the Phil. inspite of what the government is pursuing and implementing to uplift and remedy the health problems.”
“He assured us that he will do whatever has to be done to make it easier for legitimate medical missions to go to the Philippines,” Ballecer told The Filipino American Journal.
“We were able to impress him about the red tape and regulations medical missions have to go through to help our people. He promised to look and review them and do what is right.
I just hope that he really will follow up all his promises and come up with something that will ease our burden to encourage more medical missions to go to the Philippines,” Dr. Ballecer said.
Macbeth Torno, former president of the PNA-AZ, said, “It was definitely a very productive encounter. The information about the health care reform being undertaken is a milestone for the poor and even for the average Filipinos.”
Torno has expressed great optimism that Secretary Ona will do all what is to be done “in order to facilitate the holding of medical missions to the Philippines.”
She said that her experience of being a part of six Cataract and Medical Missions to the Philippines “is nothing but joy and fulfillment.”
Torno told The Filipino American Journal that the dialogue with Health Secretary Ona has “clarified many issues not only on the conduct of medical missions but more so on the programs of the Philippine government in reaching out to the poorest of the poor insofar as the delivery of health services is concerned.”
For her part, Ethel Luzario, former president of Phoenix PhilAm Lions and Chief Executive Officer of the 3000 Club said, “the dialogue was timely as it has assured us that the Phoenix Phil-Am Lions Club, which I am a member of, will again be able to conduct is twice a year eye cataract medical missions to the Philippines in February of 2013.”
“ I am doubtful though that we will be able to continue our future medical missions if the Government will ultimately decide to impose payment of permit and other fees for the group and individual medical professionals,” Luzario told The Filipino American Journal.
Luzario also revealed that “after reading the enormous requirements imposed by DOH on the conduct of medical missions, I am now having second thoughts about medical missions being planned by the 3000 Club.”
“I mentioned to Secretary Ona that the 3000 Club has been sending jumbo balikbayan boxes containing medical supplies to our Chapter in the Philippines and he mentioned that he would prefer that they be coursed through DOH and the recipients to be government hospitals,” Luzario said.
Luzario is anticipating the streamlining of rules and regulations on medical missions as promised by Secretary Ona. “ I can’t wait to see on what those changes will be”, she said. (ArominFAJ)