Starbucks or 'sachet' insurance? HMOs target cost-conscious Filipinos

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 26 2018 12:13 PM | Updated as of Jun 26 2018 12:28 PM

Doctors check on suspected dengue patients at a hospital ward in Valenzuela City. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA -- For the price of 3 Starbucks venti cups, breadwinner Elaine Aquino financed a recent emergency room trip of her hypertensive father.

With her P549 prepaid card, the 36-year-old covered P4,000 in emergency room fees, saving her P3,451 or the equivalent of 20 designer coffee cups. She also avoided a potential debt trap.

From urgent hospital trips to dengue, demand for health insurance in "sachet" amounts is growing in the Philippines, where the poor and the middle class don't have enough cash to spare for a full-blown healthcare plan, industry officials said.

"For someone who cannot afford to get a comprehensive HMO plan, it is best to invest in prepaid cards. One trip to the ER will cost you thousands," said Aquino, an insurance agent.

Prepaid insurance addresses consumers' biggest concern -- price, Medicard president Nicanor Montoya told ABS-CBN News.

"Survival muna ang issue ng karamamihan. Understandably ang unang gustong ma-address, food, clothing, shelter, pang araw araw," Montoya said.

(Survival is the issue for many. Understandably, they want to address food, clothing and shelter.)

"What we’re trying to do is create smaller packages. We’re trying to make it na kayang bumaba para baka makaya na," he said.

(What we're trying to do is create smaller packages. We're trying to make it so that when prices get low enough, they can afford it.)

Prepaid insurance cards are shown in this photo. ABS-CBN News

A CARD FOR EVERY BUDGET

Some 96 percent of Filipinos don't have access to comprehensive healthcare, according to PhilCare's own survey. Company president Jaeger Tanco said this moved PhilCare to target the underserved.

PhilCare's emergency care card costs P800 while its ER and hospitalization cards range from P1,050 to P4,750 and can cover up to P80,000 in costs for viral and bacterial illnesses, except in stroke cases. The products are also voucher-based, eliminating the need to carry a physical card.

The company has sold 10,000 prepaid cards this year alone and the service is especially popular with female credit card holders who see PhilCare ads on Facebook, said its vice president for sales and marketing Christian Cristobal.

"Pag na-ER saan ka uutang? Lahat ng savings mo makukuha na," Cristobal told ABS-CBN News.

(When you're in an ER, where will you borrow money? All your savings may be consumed.)

FROM DENGUE TO PRIMARY CARE

BiteProtect is selling P150 dengue insurance at financial e-commerce platform eCompare Mo, promising up to P30,000 in coverage for adults aged 18 to 65.

Making health insurance affordable will convince Filipinos to invest in their health, said eCompare Mo chief commercial officer Mercedes Limson.

"Health is wealth… The small amount you pay, which is equivalent to a venti Starbucks drink, could very well save the life of a loved one," she said.

It also helps to compare the cost of prepaid insurance to everyday splurges like a Starbucks coffee cup, which costs under P200.

Sixty percent of diseases can be addressed in primary care, or one which does not require hospitalization, said Medicard's Montoya.

Medicard president Nicanor Montoya speaks to a client. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Medicard's most popular prepaid product is the P500 Health Check Card, which offers unlimited consultations with primary care doctors, including general practitioners, internists, family doctors, pediatricians and ob-gynecologists, he said.

Card holders are also entitled to annual physical examination, comprehensive physical exam, complete blood count, urinalysis, fecalysis and chest x-ray, he said.

A pricier option, the P1,998 RxER, offers unlimited primary care and dental consultations for one year, general check-up and physical exams. This is mainly for small business owners and the self employed, he said.

Sachet insurance also serves as an introduction to healthcare providers' larger product menu, said PhilCare's Tanco.

"At some point, once they’re aware of it, they get to appreciate another product which has higher coverage," he said.

"If this awareness evolves to something more, then we’re also prepared to give it to them," he said.