Insuring Against Cancer

Despite the recent advances in cancer treatment modalities and screening methods, which allow us to aim for a curative approach especially for earlier stages of cancer, the big C word is still a known killer of hopes and dreams, not only for the patients but their loved ones as well. Perhaps it is mostly due to the fact that cancer is almost always associated with a poor prognosis, and the common question people ask about is the number of years left in their lifespan. But as a pre-resident at the radiation oncology department of a private hospital in the Philippines, I had a first-hand experience of a different perspective.

We had a patient who was a 63-year-old female, diagnosed with Stage IIIC breast cancer. She underwent mastectomy and was referred to us for radiation therapy.

After the initial interview and physical exam, the resident started to discuss the plan of treatment. “So mauuna muna po ang chemotherapy bago ang radiation. Pero bago yun, una sa lahat, dapat ay lakasan natin ang ating loob.”

However, the patient’s daughter responded, “Ayaw na nga po niyang magpa-treat, eh.”

The resident asked, “Bakit naman po, nanay?”

I saw tears starting to pool around the patient’s eyes, then the patient whispered, “Mahirap lang po kami. Wala po kaming pang-bayad.”

The resident quickly responded,“Nay, ‘wag po kayong mawalan ng pag-asa. May PhilHealth po ba kayo?”

“Meron po”, the patient’s daughter answered.

“Kung may Philhealth na po, wala po kayong babayaran sa buong treatment na 33 days. One time lang po para sa ibang bayarin na Php 2,500. Pero pagkatapos po noon, wala nang babayaran. Kahit po sa consultant, wala pong babayaran,” the resident explained.

“What good is available treatment if one could not afford it?”

I swear, I saw how the patient’s face lit up with joy upon hearing news of a miracle — that an expensive, life-preserving treatment she could never have afforded in her lifetime would be given to her for free. Aside from the poor prognosis of cancer, the high cost of treatment destroys the hope and dreams of cancer patients and their loved ones alike. I have seen firsthand how an assurance that a patient will be able to afford treatment can bring back hope to the patient, and allow them to regain the courage to endure and complete even a physically gruesome treatment session.

I wish we could expand the coverage of the Philippine health insurance system to bring hope to every Filipino, because what good is available treatment if one could not afford it?

Karl Jeremy Lo

R.N., M.D., M.B.A.

Radiation Oncology Resident

The Medical City

Through this blog, we’ll be sharing the experiences and insights of our good friends who work in health. This an essay in our series on the state of healthcare in the Philippines.

Interested contributors may contact our Vice President for Advocacy, Celina Gacias, through

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