Susan Ople: 1536

Susan “Toots” Ople is the youngest daughter of the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople. She has a Sunday column in Manila Bulletin’s Panorama Magazine and Tempo and two public service radio programs, “Bantay OFW” at DZXL RMN 558 every Monday to Friday, 12.30-2 pm and “Global Pinoy” at DWIZ 882 every Saturday from 5.30-6.30 pm.
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by Susan Ople
First posted in

EFFECTIVE January 1, 2014, the monthly PhilHealth contributions of members with the lowest salaries was doubled to P200, with the additional Php100 contribution to be shouldered equally by the worker and his or her employer. In the case of overseas Filipino workers, this adjustment translates into a P2,400 annual contribution compared to last year’s P1,200 annual rate.

PhilHealth Circular No. 0025 s. 2013 issued in October 2013 provides for two payment options for OFWs set to leave this year:

Pay the P2,400 annual contributions in one sweep at all PhilHealth accredited collection agencies including the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and accredited recruitment agencies; or,
Pay P1,600 valid for six months premium with an understanding that the contributions for the succeeding six months will be settled within six months after the expiration of the initial coverage in order for the OFW to enjoy full benefits of the program.

A vigorous debate has found its way into social media sites over PhilHealth’s latest move. Why should this be mandatory for OFWs, they ask, when they enjoy better health coverage overseas? A group of expat Filipino bloggers also questioned the non-inclusion of parents below the age of 60 years old as dependents of OFW-PhilHealth members. Why can’t the OFWs decide on who their dependents are considering that the likelihood of their being able to personally benefit from the national health insurance scheme as migrant workers is quite low?

As all OFWs know, one cannot obtain an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration unless contributions to OWWA, Pag-Ibig, and PhilHealth are updated. Combining these three membership-based contributions means that every OFW would have to pay at least P4,416.25 in membership dues to get their OEC. This amount is not insignificant considering that a first-time OFW usually ends up paying all these premiums and membership dues with no foreign employer sharing the burden, while yet to collect a monthly salary abroad.

According to the PhilHealth circular, the said premium adjustment would enable OFWs and their beneficiaries to be entitled to out-patient care services provided under its Primary Care Benefit, and in-patient hospital care including all case rate packages and catastrophic illnesses under the Z-benefit package and other special benefit packages. Workers confined in hospitals overseas can also file claims for reimbursements with PhilHealth.

This is all well and good but who would explain such packages and facilitate OFWs’ needs and queries when PhilHealth has yet to invest in overseas personnel to help its members? Certainly, given the doubling of premiums across the board, this government corporation can afford to set up offices overseas or at least tap overseas health professionals to represent them in key posts abroad? In essence, an OFW contributes more to PhilHealth than it does to OWWA, its own welfare institution, and yet OWWA has a presence in a majority of labor-destination countries. An OWWA two-year membership is pegged at $25 (around P1,116.25) compared to PhilHealth’s annual premium of R2,400.

Based on the PhilHealth circular announcing the new premium rates for OFWs, the corporation noted that benefit payments to OFW members and their beneficiaries for confinements abroad and in local hospitals in fiscal year 2013 has reached 130.53% over premiums collected.

“It is imperative and of primordial importance therefore, that PhilHealth implements the adjusted rates across all membership categories – Employed, Individually Paying, Indigent Program, and Overseas Workers’ Program (OWP) – with R2,400 as the lowest premium rate in order to ensure financial sustainability and viability.”

Certainly, no OFW wants to see an indigent PhilHealth member be deprived of basic health services. One can also be hard put to describe an OFW as unmindful of his or her duties to the State. The annual growth in remittances is a clear indicator of where an OFW’s loyalty lies. Should a Filipino who has taken the bold and painful step of leaving to work abroad be compelled by law to contribute membership dues meant to sustain the financial health of government corporations?

Unfortunately, the law mandates that such OFW contributions to PhilHealth be mandatory. Unless this law is amended, our modern-day heroes have no other option but to comply with the new rate, and every other increase that the Board would someday deem necessary. There ought to be a law against passing laws without consulting the sectors to be directly affected by its provisions.

Meanwhile, PhilHealth must invest in programs and services meant to earn the trust, confidence, and loyalty of its OFW members. Perhaps, they can study how Pag-IBIG nurtures its relations with its overseas members. Will they even try? I hope so. Universal health care is a national aspiration that is way beyond our grasp. This wouldn’t be such a hardsell for our OFWs if only its management and personnel can be more attuned to the needs of this vital and growing sector.

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