MANILA, Philippines - Filipino-American advocates are pushing a campaign aimed at giving retired Filipino-American immigrant professionals access to US Medicare even if they are in the Philippines.
About 100 Fil-Am immigrant professionals retire every day. But while they can take their Social Security pension and savings anywhere in the world, it is a different story for their Medicare in-patient, out-patient and prescription coverage overseas, unlike private medical insurance.
Eric Lachica, a veteran lobbyist in the United States is spearheading the campaign for "Medicare portability," designed to allow retired Filipino-American immigrant professionals access to their Medicare benefits at internationally-accredited hospitals and health care providers in the Philippines.
"The Veterans are leading the way on the Medicare Portability. In America, kung 65 years old and above, you will get Medicare coverage. Parang health insurance for the seniors. We expanded the base kasi Veterans in the US hindi pwedeng dalhin ang Medicare insurance nila dito in addition to the 200,000 US Filipino seniors in the US," said Lachica, Organizer of the US Medicare Philippines, Incorporated, a non-profit advocacy organization based in Washington D.C., on ANC's "Headstart."
"We expect a $1 Billion in Medicare spending, kung payagan tayo ni US President Barack Obama and the US Congress, we have to make changes in Medicare law.... I'll be paying $55,000 into the health care system in taxes. I'd like to retire and have a long-term stay here."
Last month, President Aquino announced, he will discuss this issue with Obama in their June meeting in Washington, to allow top Philippine-based hospitals that are caring for Fil-Am retirees, to be accredited by US Medicare Insurance.
"We'd like to thank President Aquino for taking a forward-looking stance and bringing this up to the Obama administration. We need his support especially when they meet in the White House. We have to work together to make his visit a success."
Lachica said, advocates are scheduled to meet with President Aquino on Monday to thank him and give him pointers on the need for assertive partnership with Philippine Ambassador in Washington DC Luis Cuisia. He adds, they also look forward to some developments following an earlier meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario this week.
Lachica said the Medicare Portability is seen to be a win-win situation, for both the US and the Philippine economies, as it will supposedly result in savings for taxpayers and Medicare, while allowing Filipinos in America to return to tap their health care benefits in the Philippines.
A community activist since high school in the University of the Philippines, Lachica has always believed in the mustering communities, especially the Filipino population in America, an estimated 3.4 million, accounting for 1% of the entire US population.
"There's about a million possible Filipino-American votes. We were hoping that we could tap that People Power. The big challenge of our Fil-Am leaders is to motivate and energize and to bring them to the polls."
"Our campaign for equity for Filipino heroes energizes me. I'm honored to be one of the point persons of this campaign."
The veterans' cause
Lachica, a son of a Filipino-American World War II Veteran from Dumaguete, is known for tirelessly lobbying for the rights of Filipino American Veterans. He has worked with the major veterans organizations here and in the US, and is Volunteer Executive Director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans.
"I was challenged 20 years ago, when he was denied benefits by Uncle Sam in Los Angeles. He said: hindi natin kaya... Pinakita niya sa akin yung kanyang discharge papers... mamaya hindi sila pinapansin sa Veterans Affairs hospital in L.A. And I met his colleagues. And it’s really sad they were being shunned to the side," Lachica said.
This was in 1989. His father had no medical benefits to speak of just like other Fil-Am Veterans who were given US citizenship.
"That's the irony. They were given US passports. When they got to the United State they were turned away. You might be a citizen by virtue of citizenship in Uncle Sam's army but you're not entitled to veterans benefits," Lachica recalled, saying that was where the campaign started.
It was the same case with 95-year old Celestino Almeda of Virginia and 3,000 to 4,000 other veterans who were denied health care benefits because their names were not on a second list, despite having on hand discharge papers signed by American officers, pay stubs and mission orders.
"We're appealing to President Obama to issue an Executive Order to his Secretary to review individually yung deserving veterans," Lachica said, adding the cases are in the appeals process.
In 17 years, Lachica has organized campaigns that helped get five bills passed in the US Congress. These include the Fil-Vet Equity Bill, which gave $300 million to Filipino veterans in the US and the Philippines.
Lachica noted, 18,000 Fil-Am war veterans have received their benefits, half in the US, half in the Philippines.
Veterans are entitled to a $500 monthly Social Security Income if they return to the Philippines (75% of the US pension for retirees), burial benefits in the United States, and $9,000 for the Veteran's widow.
Lachica noted, most of World War II veterans in 1945, 1946 could have been automatic US Citizens had the Consul, who was swearing them in, not been removed.
"There was a private understanding between the new government at that time under Osmena, huwag na lang kasi our best and brightest veterans might move to the US but they had a right to go to the US at that time."
But he admits, while pushing the veterans cause was a breeze during the term of Former President George W. Bush who recognized Fil-Am veterans well before he took the top seat in the White House, persuading US President Bill Clinton to support war veterans years earlier, was no easy task. Backed by Congressman Bob Filmer of San Diego, California and war veterans, they took their campaign to the streets, drew media coverage and eventually public attention.
"Filipino veterans were the responsibility of the Philippine government so we had to change the perspective."
"There was an election coming up and unfortunately we have to make it very clear to his staff that if he didn't want to move on a resolution just recognizing our Filipino veterans, we would demonstrate, we would protest just two months before the elections."
Fostering Fil-Am connections
Today, Lachica admits, their campaign depends on closely working with their Asian-American allies and mainstream veterans organizations.
"There's a lot of goodwill for our heroes. The thing is to tap it to get it organized and establish personal relationships."
"Filipino-Americans don't realize that they have a lot of clout, especially our doctors and nurses. We have 200,000 Filipina nurses in the US, 20,000 Fil-Am doctors. A friend of mine who runs this Southern California Hospital council said, if you guys go on strike the whole healthare system in the US will collapse."
"We have to capitalize on those connections."
"I'm glad that Loida Lewis one of the benefactors there was a good friend of the First Couple and she helped us get access to the kitchen cabinet. Hillary had Filipino-American kitchen cabinet members like Maria Mabilangan-Haley, she was key in getting the Pres. Clinton to support our bill which allowed many of our Fil-Am veterans to come back may dalang $500 a month.
"You can't win the war with one big battle," Lachica said, recalling the advice of many of their mentors including Senator Inoue, who himself had been discharged from the US army after he lost his arm.
Lachica added, Filipinos also have to overcome the baggage of colonial mentality.
From their early efforts, initially weighed-down by a lack of assertive local leadership against discriminatory practices, and the coordination and cooperation of children of Fil-Am war veterans, Lachica said, today their campaign depends on empowering Fil-Ams to fight for their rights.