MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte directed the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) to make the payment of premiums voluntary for overseas Filipino workers in light of opposition against premium rate increases, Malacañang said Monday.
The directive comes after thousands signed an online petition protesting PhilHealth premium rate hikes for the OFWs.
"Ipipinapaalam po namin sa inyo na nag-isyu ng direktiba ang Pangulo sa Philhealth na gawing boluntaryo ang pagbabayad ng mga OFWs ng Philhealth premiums," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said.
(The President directed PhilHealth to make the payment of PhilHealth premiums voluntary for OFWs.)
"Sa ngayon po, habang meron tayong krisis, ang naging desisyon ng Presidente, wag na muna tayong magpataw ng karagdagang pahirap sa ating mga OFWs, lalong lalo na sa panahon na napakadami sa kanila ang nare-repatriate at nawalan na rin ng trabaho," he added.
(While we are in a crisis now, the decision of the President is for us not to add more difficulties for our OFWs, especially at this time when so many of them are repatriated and have lost their jobs.)
Non-payment of premiums does not mean that PhilHealth benefits will be waived, Roque said.
"Nakasaad po sa batas na ating sinulong na kapag hindi nakapagbayad ng premiums, hindi po yan dahilan para mawalan ng benepisyo. So, kahit anong mangyari po, sagot po tayo ng estado, dahil alinsunod po ito sa obligasyon ng estado na magbigay ng karapatan ng kalusugan sa lahat ng mamamayang Pilipino," he said.
(According to the law, if you don't pay premiums, that is not a reason to lose benefits. Whatever happens, the state will be responsible because it is the obligation of the state to provide healthcare to all Filipinos.)
Roque, however, said increasing PhilHealth premiums is a reality based on science as he clarified that the increase is only .5 percent, contrary to the notion that it will hike by 3 percent.
"Ang nililinaw ko lang ay, unang una, ang pagtaas po ay hindi 3 percent. It's only .5 percent," he said.
(I'm only clarifying that the increase is not 3 percent. It's only .5 percent.)
In line with Duterte's directive, Roque said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also suspended an item in the Implementing Rules and Regulation of the Universal Healthcare Law that requires OFWs to present proof of income before being issued with an overseas employment certificate.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration announced as well that OFWs are no longer required to pay PhilHealth premium first before they can be issued necessary papers such as the overseas employment certificate for them to leave the country, Roque said.
'NOT JUST OFWs'
PhilHealth Chief Ricardo Morales on Monday meanwhile clarified that the increase in premium payments is not limited to OFWs and covers self-employed Filipinos as well.
"Hindi lang naman OFWs ang covered ng increase, lahat ng direct members. Those who are self-employed and paying their own premiums are affected by this increase," he said in a virtual press briefing.
(OFWs are not the only ones covered by the increase, all of the direct members are.)
OFWs and direct PhilHealth members with an income of P10,000 to P60,000 are required to pay 3 percent of their monthly salary starting 2020, up from 2.75 percent the previous year, according to a memo circular that took effect last April 22.
The monthly premium will increase by 0.5 percent every year afterward until it reaches 5 percent in 2024, it added.
PhilHealth said Monday it temporarily suspended all collections as opposition swelled against its premium rate increase for millions of OFWs.