THE chairman of the House committee on social services on Tuesday said cancer patients can now avail themselves of free cancer medicine under the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA).
Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas, panel chairman, said the Department of Health (DoH), in a letter dated July 8, gave the assurance that patients can now access the P620-million Cancer Assistance Fund established by the NICCA.
Vargas, whose mother had succumbed to cancer, is principal author of the House version.
“This is a victory for cancer care advocates and for the patients and their families. For years we have all fought to make cancer treatment more affordable. We have seen how families of cancer patients, regardless of economic class, struggle to pay for the cost of treatment of their loved ones. We are now able to offer them relief,” Vagas said.
The DoH letter, signed by Undersecretary Rosario Vergerie, was in reply to a letter from Vargas inquiring about the status of the Cancer Assistance Fund.
Vargas earlier expressed concern that the P620 million allotted by Congress for free cancer medicines this year could revert to the National Treasury if unused by the DoH.
“The pandemic has greatly affected families of cancer patients, especially those with sole breadwinners who lost their jobs or sources of livelihood. The fund is a lifeline for them, and I am thankful that finally, they can have access to it,” Vargas said.
According to the DoH, the provision for free cancer medicines will fall under the department’s Cancer, Supportive Care and Palliative Care Medicines Access Program.
The program will provide free medicines for patients with breast cancers, childhood cancers, gynecologic cancers; liver, colorectal and other digestive tract cancers, adult blood cancers; head, neck, thyroid cancers; lung cancer, and prostate and urinary bladder cancers.
The DoH told Vargas that this year, the program will cater to around 21,000 patients or beneficiaries in 26 DoH hospital including the Philippine General Hospital (PGH).
While the administrative order has yet to be signed by Health Sec. Francisco Duque III, the fund can be accessed through the Medical Assistance for Indigents Program, the DoH said.
The NICC, or Republic Act (RA) No. 11215, was signed into law by President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte signed in 2019.
But the NICC remained unfunded after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) disapproved the DOH’s proposal to set aside P540 million for the Cancer Assistance Fund.
RA No. 11215 establishes a framework for a national cancer control program that will integrate government’s cancer-related activities, with the goal of decreasing the overall mortality and impact of all adult and childhood cancer.