Voluntary payment of OFWs to PhilHealth risks health insurance program if made permanent

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 16 2020 04:21 PM | Updated as of Jun 16 2020 09:50 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - Allowing Filipino migrant workers to permanently pay PhilHealth contributions on a voluntary basis will compromise the state health insurance system, the agency said Tuesday.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered that premium payments from overseas Filipino workers be made voluntary during the COVID-19 pandemic following uproar from the sector.

Should it be made permanent, the Universal Healthcare Law that defines the increase of premium rates will need to be amended, PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales said during an online Joint Congressional Oversight hearing on the implementation of the law.

"The foundation of insurance is somebody must be paying for the benefit. It will compromise the fundamental argument for insurance if a segment of the membership will be voluntary because the other membership segments might also ask for the same privilege. Baka ma-kompromiso ang ating national health insurance program," he said.

(It might compromise our national health insurance program.)

But OFW groups contested notions that migrant workers should be required to pay PhilHealth contributions, and urged lawmakers and health officials to scrap a provision that slaps a monthly interest for delayed payment of contributions.

"Napakabigat naman nun kung isang taon kang mawalan ng trabaho at lolobo pa utang mo sa PhilHealth," said Mary Ann Madriaga from the OFW Reintegration and Development Inc.

(It will be a big burden for an OFW who is unemployed for a year if he has mounting debts in PhilHealth.)

A provision in the UHC that requires land-based OFWs to fully shoulder their PhilHealth contributions is also "unfair" as sea-based migrant workers are allowed to split the health insurance dues with their employers, said Gemma Sotto, chairperson of the United Filipino Global International.

"Why must land-based pay double than every other employee? COVID-19 has taken a toll on our finances. We've lost jobs... What happens to OFWs who are not gainfully employed?" she said.

Lawmakers committed to review the law and coordinate with stakeholders to come up with an acceptable solution.

The agency will remove a provision in the law's implementing rules on requiring OFWs to make an initial payment prior their departure, Morales said.

PhilHealth mandated the payment to register departing OFWs as only 360,000 Filipino migrant workers are in its database out of the 7 to 10 million Filipinos abroad, he said.

"We are no longer implementing that portion. We could try data sharing with other agencies and also probably with the manning agencies to complete our membership database," Morales said.

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.