Boasting an 85% membership rate or having roughly 94 million Filipinos as members, there is no question about how integrated the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. — more commonly known as PhilHealth — is in the lives of Filipinos.
According to a recent study conducted by communications firm EON Group, it enjoys a high level of recognition, with 76% of the respondents believing that PhilHealth contributes to public health and welfare in its role as the government agency that oversees the provision of health insurance coverage, and affordable and quality healthcare services to all Filipinos.
Yet if we dive deeper into media reports on PhilHealth since the onset of the pandemic, we’ll find headline after headline that could skew anyone’s opinion of the agency negatively.
In 2020, while the Philippines endured the effects of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, PhilHealth was rocked by a corruption controversy that saw several of its high-ranking officials accused of fund mismanagement and anomalous transactions. To those who can recall this period, I’m pretty sure you were livid about the issue just like the rest of the public was. Everyone was stuck at home for most of that year, constantly checking the news, and getting outraged over the alleged misuse of funds intended to cover citizens’ healthcare costs amid a global health crisis. Social media was abuzz for months with Filipinos criticizing PhilHealth officials and demanding accountability.
Although the government agency has categorically denied any fund theft, the negative publicity has done its work. A cloud of doubt over PhilHealth remains. This is supported by the results of the EON study that show PhilHealth enjoying a modest 61% trust rating from Filipinos — a number significantly lower than the client satisfaction rating in the high 90s that the agency used to get pre-pandemic. It didn’t help that PhilHealth raised its membership contribution rates this summer amid rising fuel and food costs. The additional burden on their pockets certainly reminded Filipinos of the perceived corruption among the agency’s top management.
Still, for an organization that has been under intense public scrutiny since 2020, a 61% trust rating and a 76% belief in its contribution to public health and welfare are relatively high figures. To help account for the reasons behind these numbers, the EON study also asked respondents nuanced questions about their perception of PhilHealth.
What we discovered is that they did not base their answers solely on news reports about the agency but also on their experiences in dealing with it, such as looking for information through its information channels, interacting with its staff, the quick processing of their claims, and more. Since their answers relayed a more positive experience with PhilHealth, we were able to understand that while Filipinos now have a tempered trust in the agency, they still believe in its services and its capacity to help citizens.
I’ve mentioned PhilHealth’s recent contribution rate hike that once again drew the ire of members. EON’s study also did a quick scan of the social media space in the past year and it revealed plenty of netizens’ sentiments of dissatisfaction with the agency. PhilHealth’s online mentions included corruption allegations, the suspension of claim payments, and its increased rate for members, with most online discussions occurring on Twitter. It’s a different picture from the one presented by our on-the-ground survey since social media is driven by instantaneous and reactive sentiments.
Both pictures must be taken into account, however. It is incumbent upon the current PhilHealth officials to take note of the downward trend in public trust in the agency and do the work of regaining the trust they have lost.
We believe the latter is achievable with the help of a few simple yet consistent measures.
One, PhilHealth must practice transparency. Its officials must make sure to properly audit any and all transactions, that records of these transactions can be accessed by stakeholders at any time, and that the numbers are spotless when checked. Next is implementing a more efficient system for members, including digitizing its processes. This can cut down delays and inconveniences for members, which contribute to their negative experiences with the agency.
Lastly, if membership rate hikes are inevitable, then materials that provide proper information and explanation about these increases must be given to members. Educating stakeholders on the need for higher fees will go far in quelling the public’s understandable outrage since they would then understand where a percentage of their monthly income goes. More importantly, they must be able to feel the benefits of these membership rate hikes.
If PhilHealth is to improve its trust rating, it has to commit to being transparent and consistent with its work.
As the renowned American author Robert C. Solomon once said, “Authentic trust is sophisticated, reflective, and possible to renew.” This is the kind of trust that Filipinos want to be able to have in PhilHealth, and it should prove to be worthy of it.
Junie S. Del Mundo is chair of the MAP Health Committee, vice-chair of the MAP CEO Conference Committee, and chair and CEO of The EON Group.