What Is the Level of Healthcare in the Philippines?

If you are planning to live or retire abroad, chances are you have questions about the healthcare system in your overseas destination: How good is it? How affordable? What about insurance?

A popular location for expats is the Philippines, an archipelagic nation of some 7,000+ islands known for its powdery white sandy beaches and endless natural beauty. Expats choose the Philippines for the beaches and tropical climate, the friendly, English-speaking population, a lower cost of living, and access to what is considered quality, affordable healthcare. But just how reliable is it? Can you trust it? Here’s a closer look at healthcare in the Philippines.

Key Takeaways:

  • Healthcare for expats in The Philippines is affordable and good quality in and around Manila.
  • The Philippine government allocated $3.2 billion to the health sector for 2020, which was a 12% increase from the budget for 2019.
  • The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) is building and upgrading medical infrastructure nationwide and is addressing the need for additional health personnel, particularly in hard to reach areas. 

Understanding Healthcare in Southeast Asia

The country’s government has allocated $3.2 billion to the health sector. That is an increase of 12% from the budget for 2019. According to Healthcare Asia, approximately $1.3 billion (PHP67.4 billion) went to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, $1.1 billion (PHP59.6 billion) went to hospital services, and the remaining $670 million (PHP34.2 billion) went to public health services.

The budget also allocated $150 million (PHP7.5 billion) for the National Immunization Program, $810 million (PHP41.1 billion) for the Health Facilities Operations Program, and $370 million (PHP19.1 billion) for the purchase of drugs, medicines, and vaccines for distribution to various government health facilities.

The funds will allow the country’s Department of Health (DOH) to build and upgrade medical infrastructure nationwide. The department will also address the scarcity of employed health personnel across public health facilities, particularly in hard to reach areas.

The Philippines healthcare and pharmaceutical market is expected to experience robust growth. Additionally, healthcare expenditure in the Philippines is expected to continue to grow steadily through to 2029, rising from $17.2 billion (PHP897.4 billion) to $60.7 billion (PHP3.1 trillion). 

The demand for healthcare in Southeast Asia as a whole is rapidly increasing thanks to population growth rates.

The situation in the Philippines may have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Medical Personnel Shortages

Another challenge facing many countries in Southeast Asia is the chronic shortage of medical personnel.

According to the Asian Review, every year, the Philippines loses approximately 13,000 healthcare workers who go abroad to work. This has aggravated the domestic shortage of 290,000, according to the Philippine Overseas and Employment Administration. In 2020, the Philippines prohibited doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals from leaving to work overseas because the nation was grappling with the coronavirus.

Where Does This Leave Expats?

Despite these challenges, expats are generally able to access quality, affordable healthcare—as long as they live in (or are willing to travel to) Manila, where the standard of care is much higher than in the rest of the Philippines. Most medical practitioners in the Philippines have graduated from the country’s top universities and studied in U.S. medical schools, and many practiced in the U.S. before returning to the Philippines.

The Philippines has both private and public healthcare facilities. In general, the private hospitals tend to be rated higher in terms of facilities and technologies offered; they are also more expensive because government hospitals don’t charge any fees. That being said, it’s important to note that some of the country’s best doctors serve in the public sector.

According to International Citizens.com, two of the best private hospitals in The Philippines are The Medical City, Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City, Metro Manila and St Lukes Hospital, Philippines Medical Center, 32nd St. Bonifacio Global City Taguig City.

As far as healthcare costs are concerned, most locals and expats consider both services and medications to be very affordable. Another plus: expats should have no trouble communicating with medical personnel since nearly all speak and understand English.

Insurance

The Philippines has a universal health coverage system called PhilHealth (the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation), a government organization attached to the Department of Health. The agency’s mandate is “to provide health insurance coverage and ensure affordable, acceptable, available, and accessible healthcare services for all citizens of the Philippines.” The system is designed to be a way for the healthy to help pay for the care of the sick, and for those who can afford medical care to subsidize those who can’t. Premiums vary based on age and income.

Under certain circumstances, foreign nationals can enroll in PhilHealth. If you are married to a Philippine national, for example, you can get coverage as a dependent. The vast majority of expats, however, must purchase private health insurance policies. Depending on your situation, health, and comfort level with the local healthcare, you might want to consider adding a policy that includes evacuation to your country of choice, such as Malaysia, Singapore, or Thailand— countries with booming medical tourism industries.

The Bottom Line

If you live or retire in the Philippines, you can reasonably expect quality, affordable healthcare if you are in the capital city of Manila. Outside Manila, it might be a different story. The U.S. Embassy in Manila notes that “Hospitals in and around Manila often offer high-quality medical care....Many hospitals outside major urban areas may offer only basic medical care in rudimentary conditions. It is wise to evaluate the standards of medical care at a hospital before contemplating a medical procedure.” If you live in a rural area in the Philippines, it’s a good idea to research your local options and decide how you’ll get to better care—before any healthcare services are needed. 

Note: U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in the Philippines are encouraged to research current U.S. Department of State travel alerts and warnings, and enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP provides security updates and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you and your family in case of an emergency.