POSTSCRIPT / September 17, 2009 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Profit-crazy hospitals claim losses, raise fees

BANKRUPT?: It is good that Health Secretary Francisco Duque rapped private hospitals increasing fees to recoup losses from widely used essential medicines whose prices were cut in half under the government’s drug price regulation scheme starting Sept. 15.

Dr. Rustico Jimenez, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, said in a forum Tuesday, “We will be forced to increase our services (fees), otherwise, we’ll be bankrupt and close shop.”

Hearing this, Duque countered that he found it incredible that hospitals would lose money to the point of bankruptcy because of foregone profits from the 21 medicines that include over-the-counter drugs for hypertension and high cholesterol.

“If you really stand by your claim, show us your FS (financial statement),” the secretary said, “I am a health financier. I will go over your FS one by one.” There was some applause in the audience.

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PROFIT CENTERS: Duque reminded private hospital administrators that they had other “profit centers” aside from their pharmacies. (Duque was chair of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. before he became health secretary.)

“You get reimbursed by PhilHealth,” he told them. “PhilHealth increased your OR (operating room) fees but we didn’t hear any thank you. You have board and lodging, OR, professional fees and laboratory fees. You have many profit centers.”

If Postscript may add: Hospitals even charge patients and their families exorbitant fees for parking, and let doctors collect fees without BIR-registered receipts.

Duque continued: “Why don’t you give in when it comes to medicines? Why don’t you join our goal in government to make medicines more affordable, so our people would see that you are with them and that you’re not just concerned with your interest?”

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VOLUME GAINS: Duque urged hospitals to mend their ways, “because the public has been a victim of the high prices of medicines for a long time.”

He said: “It’s easy to come up with words and declare that just because we have halved medicine prices, hospitals would immediately lose money. But from what Rustico (Jimenez) is saying, I do not see the clear basis for this.

“At the end of the day, volume price compensation will make up for the losses. We don’t believe they will lose money. Maybe at first there will be a setback, but when the market expands there will be a good effect of all this.”

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MASA VS ELITE: Vice President Noli de Castro held his ground yesterday until the door was closed on him for consideration as the presidential candidate of the administration Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition searching for a winnable bet.

Thus freed to stay on his independent course, De Castro can now continue talking to Sen. Manny Villar, his Wednesday Club kabarkada in the Senate, about possibly running as his vice presidential partner in the Nacionalista Party.

A Villar-De Castro tandem for the Nacionalistas would be a good katapatto a Noynoy Aquino-Mar Roxas team of the Liberal Party.

With Villar having come from the poor and De Castro drawing power from the masses, it would be easy for their marketing group to conjure up a 2010 showdown of the Poor-Masa vs the Rich-Elite.

This is a more credible banner than the LP’s “Good vs Evil” catchphrase, which insults people’s credulity by insinuating that all those who are not LPs are evil.

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KISS OF DEATH: A side effect of narrowing the free-for-all into a virtual Rich vs Poor showdown is to push the upcoming administration tandem of Teodoro and Secretary Ronnie Puno farther into the sidelines.

Although President Gloria Arroyo saw to it that she was in faraway Turkey when the Lakas-Kampi leaders endorsed Teodoro as standard bearer, the defense boss would find it difficult wiping off the kiss-of-death marks of the President.

Actually, it is early to say how the various tickets would shape up. With party lines having been blurred by rampant turncoatism, various partisan permutations and combinations are possible.

Sen. Mar Roxas may choose to just lead the LP senatorial ticket, with somebody like Sen. Chiz Escudero taking his slot as vice presidential candidate — if the Nationalist Party Coalition endorsing Escudero (or Sen. Loren Legarda) is unable to field a viable lineup.

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PORT RUMORS: At the North Harbor, while the business community has hailed the entry of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. and Harbour Centre in the modernizing and managing of the port, efforts continue to sabotage the awarding of the contract.

Some parties are spreading rumors, for instance, that when the decrepit World War I-vintage port is modernized, large numbers of workers would be laid off and fees and charges would be raised.

Under the contract of the consortium led by MPIC, no worker would be dismissed. In fact, an additional 20,000 skilled workers would be hired for the modernization of facilities and the upgrading of services under the P14-5-billion contract.

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CROWN JEWEL: Once touted as the crown jewel of the Philippine transport industry, North Harbor is now so decayed and filthy that it cannot even compare with, say, the port of Batangas City.

Modernization will replace the eight old piers with modern structures similar to those of Rotterdam, Singapore and Hong Kong. It will facilitate the movement of more people and cargo, spur commerce and boost government revenues from the port.

The government stands to gain P6.8 billion over 25 years. In its first-year operation, the Philippine Ports Authority is expected to earn some P160 million, increasing every year thereafter.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 17, 2009)

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