JUST BEFORE 2018 ended, the Department of Finance (DOF), the Department of Health (DOH), the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a joint administrative order that basically allowed many Filipinos to greet the new year on a more positive note.
Said order — with the corresponding BIR revenue regulation — comprised the implementing guidelines for the value-added tax (VAT) exemption on the sale of maintenance drugs and medicines for diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension starting January 1, 2019, as mandated by RA 10963. This is a welcome development especially since the health problems mentioned above are far too common among Filipinos.
The Philippines has been described before as a diabetes “hot spot” in the region, based on the fact that the number of Filipinos diagnosed with diabetes has been ballooning. The World Health Organization (WHO) even predicted that the number of diabetics in the country would reach to roughly eight million (7.7 million) by 2030.
Hypertension is similarly prevalent. According to a 2017 DOH survey, over 12 million — or roughly one out of four—Filipinos are already hypertensive. Furthermore, more than half are unaware of their condition since, according to experts, hypertensive patients often don’t display any symptoms. What’s alarming is that cases of hypertension are no longer limited to the older population. For instance, last year, the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC) had a 13-year-old hypertension patient – their youngest so far.
Meanwhile, in 2016, a study by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) revealed that almost half (46.9 percent) of Filipinos aged 20 and above have borderline to high cholesterol — with many similarly unaware of their condition. It has long been established by experts that high levels of cholesterol can result to illnesses which, if left unaddressed, can lead to death. In fact, cardiovascular illnesses — which result to 170,000 deaths each year — can be attributed to high levels of cholesterol.
Grim is the picture painted by Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data, which shows that the big three — diabetes, hypertensive diseases, and heart ailments brought about by high cholesterol — are among the top leading causes of death in the Philippines.
This is partially explained by the fact that due to the high cost of medicines for these illnesses, poorer patients often find it difficult to follow their doctors’ prescriptions. They can hardly afford the maintenance medicines they need. And this could either delay their healing, or worse, spell a bigger problem for them and their families.
That’s why the VAT exemption on the sale of drugs and medicines for these health problems is incredibly necessary, life-saving even. Not only will the exemption help unload the burden of costly medicines. The expected savings can also kick start a healthier lifestyle. It should be noted that the three health problems are also often referred to as “lifestyle-related diseases” since most cases can be attributed to poor nutrition, unhealthy eating, vices, and inactivity.
Coupled with the passage of the Universal Health Care bill, which includes free check-ups and laboratory tests for all Filipinos, we hope that in making critical medicines VAT free, our countrymen are given a fighting chance to become healthier, more productive members of society. Looking forward, it is our dream that through the government’s strong drive towards a better healthcare system, Filipinos could see the value of good health in their day-to-day actions and, in turn, follow healthier lifestyles.
Sen. Sonny Angara was elected in 2013, and now chairs the Senate committees on local government, and ways and means. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara./PN