Suspension of Disbelief

Archive for December 2015

QC LGBT Pride celebration: More than just a parade

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VERA Files | 13 December 2015

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More than the parade, more than the march and festival, this celebration is the delivery of actual programs and policies for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) people,” Percival Cendaña, commissioner of the National Youth Commission, said of the recent LGBT Pride celebration in Quezon City.

The celebration took special significance held after the court ruling on Jennifer Laude’s case, which found US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton guilty of homicide.

Though many LGBT advocates and groups said that “murder” should have been the rightful verdict, they still see it as something that they can learn from. “Now, more than ever, especially because of the decision on Laude’s case, is the right time for the [LGBT] community to get together and reflect on what happened to Jennifer, and to also inspire the next course of action,” Cendaña explained.

Cendaña also said that the event is the highlight of all the achievements throughout the year, specifically the passage of the Gender-Fair Ordinance in Quezon City.

An ordinance providing for a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression signed November last year, is the first of its kind in the Philippines.

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The ordinance states: “It is hereby declared a policy of Quezon City to actively work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination that offend the equal protection clause of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution, and other existing laws and to value the dignity of every person, guarantee full respect for human rights, and give the highest priority to measures that protect and enhance the rights of all people.”

According to Councilor Lena Marie “Mayen” Juico (First District), author of the Gender-Fair Ordinance, “they (Quezon City officials) have tackled all areas where the LGBT community may experience discrimination.”

“The Quezon City government expanded the ordinance to be the most comprehensive so far. In fact, it is more comprehensive than the anti-discrimination bill that is still pending in Congress right now,” Cendaña added.

There were more young participants in this year’s Pride celebration, which was a good indication that LGBTs are slowly becoming aware of their rights, observed Juico.

“LGBTs in Quezon City [should] take the time to find out what their rights are. The city already has an ordinance that encompasses all areas where they can experience discrimination. It is all a matter of utilizing it and making sure that it is implemented,” she explained.

Juico also said that it is the desire of Mayor Herbert Bautista to see gay union or gay marriage happen in Quezon City. Adding, Bautista also knows, “it can only happen if gay marriage becomes a national policy.”

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(Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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PhilHealth benefit package for people with HIV under review

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VERA Files | 01 December 2015

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PhilHealth HIV - ARV Bottles

ARV Bottles

As the country commemorates World AIDS Day today (December 1), the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) is set to begin a formal review of its benefit package for people living with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), or PLHIVs.

“We are currently reviewing the Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package, the implementation of it in treatment hubs, and the current rates, and if patients have questions, we can discuss it with them.  PhilHealth is going to conduct a formal review of benefits, this year up to next year, to address these issues,” Dr. Mary Antoinette Remonte, Medical Specialist II and Millennium Development Goals Benefit Products Team Head of PhilHealth, said.

PLHIVs in the country, who are members of PhilHealth, are entitled to several benefits under the OHAT Package. Every year, a member is entitled to P30,000, or P7,500 every quarter, worth of treatment, care and support (TCS) services from his chosen PhilHealth accredited treatment hub.

Also included in the OHAT Package are the following: drugs and medicines; laboratory examinations based on the specific treatment guideline, including Cluster of Differentiation 4 (CD4) level determination test, viral load (if warranted), test for monitoring antiretroviral (ARV) drug toxicity; and professional fees of providers.

Hospitalization coverage from PhilHealth ranges from P11,000-20,000, depending on the case. Any amount that will exceed the allotted budget will be charged to the patient.

DOH National Epidemiology Center

DOH National Epidemiology Center

However, PhilHealth has received  reports from several PLHIVs that the TCS services they get from their treatment hubs are different compared to other TCS providers.

“It has come to our attention that some treatment hubs charge for some laboratory tests, even after the release of the OHAT Package circular. Also, according to the guidelines set by the DOH (Department of Health), viral load testing is also covered by the OHAT Package,” Dr. Remonte said.

In the case of Paolo (not his real name), a person living with HIV  (PLHIV) from Manila who is receiving HIV TCS at San Lazaro Hospital, he was made to pay for the viral load test even if he is a PhilHealth member.

Sadly, if you are a PHLIV who had been charged for a particular TCS service, that is supposedly covered by the OHAT Package, “you cannot be reimbursed for what you spent, because the reimbursement goes directly to the facility. This is why it is important for a facility to properly maximize the reimbursement claims so they can help the patients,” Dr. Remonte added.

But the practice in other treatment hubs, like in the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), is different. PLHIVs are able to receive free baseline laboratory tests and CD4 count.

“The OHAT Package does not cover baseline tests yet, but due to good financial management, we can provide them for free to new patients. And once they start their treatment, they would be eligible for OHAT,” Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, research chief head at RITM-ARG, explained.

For patients who are already starting their antiretroviral therapy, “we provide free CD4 and CBC tests. Yearly, during their anniversary, we provide free CD4, CBC, blood chemistry – depending on what ARV they are taking, and viral load. And if the doctor suspects treatment failure, a free viral load test will be done anytime plus HIV drug resistance testing,” Dr. Ditangco added.

That has been the system of RITM ever since PhilHealth released their OHAT Package circular.

“The HIV treatment regimen is standard for all treatment hubs, but the cost of laboratories are not the same. The practice is also different on how they utilize the PhilHealth reimbursement and this is because of administrative problems in the treatment hubs,” Dr. Remonte explained.

She also reminded PLHIVs to check if their treatment hubs were filing claims and if they find out that there were lapses, they could write a complaint, anonymously if they are worried about confidentiality.

For PLHIVs who want to avail of the benefits of the OHAT Package, they should be PhilHealth members with three to six months contributions; submit a waiver allowing PhilHealth to look in to their records; and provide a copy of their HIV confirmatory result and treatment regimen.

There are currently 22 accredited hospitals all over the country that are designated treatment hubs for PLHIVs. There are also several satellite clinics that provide TCS services for HIV management.

Like other agencies and institutions, PhilHealth is increasing its efforts to help manage the detrimental effects of HIV.

The Philippines is one of the countries where the prevalence of HIV has been increasing.

On the other hand, statistics from other countries show that HIV is already decreasing, or at zero growth.

As of August this year, there were already more than 5,000 reported HIV cases in the Philippines, according to the DOH. This number is 17% higher compared to the same period last year.

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(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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