Senior citizens and COVID-19
For a number of years I have been speaking on behalf of senior citizens particularly as regards the implementation of the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010 that became part of the law of the land in February 2010. Not all our efforts met with success, but some paid off. There were times in the past when the use of credit cards by senior citizens would result in establishments not honoring the 20 percent discount authorized by law. Some drugstores demanded cash payments in exchange for the grant of discounts. The same problem was encountered in restaurants with some demanding cash payments or giving only a 10 percent discount when credit cards were used for payment. Only when we raised the issue with then Vice President Noli de Castro was the matter resolved in favor of senior citizens. The 20 percent discount and VAT exemption would be honored whether payment was in cash or by credit card. Today, the senior citizen benefits provided by law are widely observed throughout the nation but there has been one particular area where this law has been subjected to bureaucratic interpretations that were to the detriment of our elderly. Unfortunately, these interpretations have been tolerated and accepted by health authorities.
In October 2012, I wrote about the plight of our elderly who for medical reasons were unable to eat much of their regular food. They had to rely on special nutritional supplements such as Ensure or Glucerna. My information was that Ensure was a source of nutrition for the aging and for those recovering from illness, injury or surgery that resulted in an inability to eat, appetite loss, and overall weight loss. Glucerna was for people with diabetes to help in minimizing blood sugar spikes and managing hunger as part of a diabetes weight loss plan.
The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the senior citizens law reads in part as follows: “The 20 percent discount and VAT exemption shall also be granted to the purchase of vitamins and mineral supplements which are medically prescribed by a physician for prevention and treatment of diseases, illness or injury.”
In response to the complaints of some elderly citizens on this issue, I called the attention of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), citing the provisions of the senior citizens law allowing certain discounts and VAT exemption for vitamins and mineral supplements medically prescribed by physicians. Unfortunately, the FDA had other ideas. I received an email from FDA director Dr. Kenneth Hartigan Go. It was the kind of response from a bureaucratic mind holding a powerful position. It read: “Food supplements are not considered essential medicines and not covered within the scope of the 20 percent discount. The Office for Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) nationwide knows this.” What arrogance! At that time, many OSCAs nationwide were not even aware of the problem and for that matter, many people were not aware of their existence and functions. Nowhere in his communication did Director Go try to explain his position.
My next move was to check with the DOH. Guess what! The office of the health secretary, referred me to the FDA. Go was out of the country and his assistants parroted the same line as their boss. No one tried to explain why these supplements were not considered vital to the well-being of the elderly, certainly not vital enough to merit consideration in law. When bureaucrats give curt responses, we become suspicious. Stories of long-standing continue to circulate concerning the hold of large multinational pharmaceutical firms over the FDA.
Last week, in a televised press briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire made this announcement: “Good news for our senior citizens. Vitamins and mineral supplements can now be availed of at 20 percent discount as long as seniors have a prescription from doctors.” She cited Department of Health Administrative Order No. 2012-0007-A. But that is precisely what the law has been saying all along since 2010. It can only mean that the DOH refused to implement the law but now, with the arrival of COVID-19, there has been a change of heart. The question that comes to mind is why 10 years ago, vitamins and mineral supplements were not entitled to any senior discount as provided by law. Now suddenly, these products seen as boosting our immune system are entitled to the discount. Did not our health experts know about these benefits 10 years ago?
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