The Philippine Constitution mandates that the aging population be given social security programs that would safeguard them as they reach their sunset years. Although the policies for their protection are already theoretically in place, they should also be updated from time to time to keep up with the ever-changing needs of this vulnerable sector of society
By Dr. Rebecca Castillo, M.D.
“They took care of us when we were young, made a lot of sacrifices to provide for our needs; and when they reach their twilight years, many are left to fend for themselves.”
This quote from newly reelected Senator Sonny Juan Edgardo ‘Sonny’ Angara basically sums up the crux of the problem of the elderly members of our society, and why the government, and society in general, must try to address them more effectively.
In a move to further champion senior citizens welfare, Sen. Sonny Angara recently filed a bill to increase the social pension granted to senior citizens by 100 percent.
The Senate Bill 133 aims to amend the Expanded Senior Citizen’s Act of 2010 and increase the social pension of senior citizens to PhP 12, 000 per year, from the current annual social pension of PhP6, 000 or a measly PhP500 per month.
“A review of the social pension system will be done every two years after the effectivity of the law with the intent of raising the monthly stipend as necessary,” Sen. Angara said.
He explained that they will consider other factors such as inflation and cost of living in reviewing the social pension of our senior citizens. The coverage of the program, he added, can also be expanded further to include those who are receiving below basic pension.
Citing a study by the Coalition of Services of the Elderly, Sen. Angara noted that more than half of the country’s senior citizens do not receive any form of pension, a reality that he said is sad but not hopeless.
He noted that the retirees, though they have set aside some savings, these are usually not enough to cover their everyday needs. This does not include check-up with their doctor and the medicines they need to buy for their health maintenance.
The senator hopes that through this, social pensions bring more sustainability in the lives of the senior citizens and for them to enjoy a healthy aging life.
Sen. Angara, whose father former Senate President Edgardo Angara was the author of the Senior Citizen’s Act of 1992 or the Angara Law, was one of the authors of the Republic Act 9994 or the Expanded Senior Citizen’s Act of 2010.
The Philippines is not inadequate in terms of legislation and policies for elderly care, but while it has an array of laws protecting the interests of the aging population, there is still a need to look into them more deeply to see what else should be done, so more gaps in elderly care and protection could be filled.
The National Statistics Office (NSO) in 2000 revealed that senior citizens comprise six percent or roughly 4.6 million of the total population then. After a decade, this grew to 6.5 million. By 2030, NSO is expecting senior citizens to comprise 11.5 percent of the total population.
While aging is something that is inevitable, what makes it alarming is the evident percentage of elderly who are below the poverty line. According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), nearly a third (31.4 percent) of older people were living in poverty in 2000. Currently, this number is estimated to be 1.3 million impoverished elderly.
This issue is directly affecting the seniors’ access in quality health care which should be a topmost priority. As the age increases, people are more at risk of both degenerative and communicable diseases, especially with the decreased capability of the body’s immune system.
Despite the seemingly lack of enough health care resources for the aging population, there are actually policies being enacted by the government dedicated for them.
Under the RA 9257 (The Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2003) and the RA 9994 (Expanded Senior Citizen Act of 2010), the Department of Health (DOH) issued Administrative Orders for health implementors to undertake programs to promote the health and wellness of senior citizens as well as to alleviate the conditions of older persons who are suffering from degenerative diseases.
This is exactly the goal of the Health and Wellness Program for Senior Citizen (HWPSC), i.e., to promote quality of life of older persons and enable them to be still productive and contribute to nation building.
The program aims to provide focused service delivery packages and integrated continuum of quality care; ensure safety and accessibility of adequate medical care for senior citizens; provide equitable health financing for them; empower health providers in the implementation of health programs for senior citizens; and strengthen coordination and collaboration with other stakeholders involved in the implementation of programs for senior citizens.
The law provides health care services for poor older persons such as free medical services in government hospitals, discounted services on private hospitals and clinics, free vaccines, discounted medicines, and mandatory PhilHealth coverage.
On the other hand, DSWD has issued derivatives for home care support services for senior citizens, which establish community-based health care services for older persons.
Meanwhile, being the country’s largest funder of health care services, PhilHealth is doing its best to take care of the elderly by providing financial risk protection and access to essential health services. PhilHealth automatically enrolls them into the National Health Insurance Program (NHIP) by virtue of R.A. 10645.
An array of hospitalization benefits may be availed of by older adults with more than 4,000 case rate packages made available for the elderly PhilHealth members and their legal dependents. Among the common causes of hospital admissions for older adults are pneumonia-high risk (PhP 32,000), hypertension – stage II ( PhP 9,000), osteoporosis (PhP 7,900), osteo-arthritis (PhP 7,000), other vascular dementia (PhP 7,800), cardiac arrhythmias (PhP 12,200), congestive heart failure (PhP 15,700), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (PhP 12,200), myocardial infarction (PhP 12,000), Complications of diabetes mellitus with other specified complications (PhP 12,600) and asthma (PhP 9,000).
These may be adequate basic protection for our elderly, but definitely, they need so much more. Hopefully, with the implementation of the universal health law, the elderly will be afforded with additional benefits to make their golden years more enjoyable and enable them to live longer.