NGOs, OFW bloggers oppose Philhealth circular raising premiums of OFW members
Several non-government organizations involved in overseas employment issues banded together to oppose Philhealth Circular No. 022 that would nearly triple the amount of premiums to be paid by overseas Filipino workers by next year.
Philhealth convened a consultative meeting with a handful of non-profit organizations representing overseas Filipino workers this morning. Walter Bacareza, vice-president of its Member Management Group presented the agency's plans to increase membership rates including that of OFWs as well as the Board's intention to "revolutionize" healthcare services in the country. Philhealth vice-president for corporate affairs Gregorio Rulloda was also present in the meeting.
Former labor undersecretary Susan Ople of the Blas F. Ople Center, Luther Calderon, president of the Kabalikat ng Migranteng Pilipino, Inc., Apostol Gratela, chairman of the Kalahi-Advocate for Overseas Filipinos and Jun Aguilar of the Filipino Migrant Workers' Group objected to the planned increases citing the lack of consultations with the labor and overseas workers' sectors. With two weeks to go before the new rates are imposed, the health agency issued the invitations for today's consultative meeting to a handful of OFW sector representatives only yesterday. The circular itself was issued on December 15.
"On January 2, unless the Philhealth Board withdraws its circular, all overseas workers would be paying 300 pesos more for their Philhealth premium and for those unable to pay that amount within the first six months of 2012, they would have to pay 2,400 pesos as annual premium from July onwards, a huge amount compared to the current 900 pesos being shelled out by every OFW. These new rates are being imposed without consultations, without clear explanations, and without consideration given the heavy financial burdens already being experienced by our migrant workers' given the series of calamities and continued slowdown in the world economy," the leaders of the said NGOs said.
During the consultative meeting, Philhealth officials explained that the higher premiums would allow the agency to meet its performance targets as well as attain the country's Millennium Development Goals and aspiration for universal health care coverage. Vice-President Bacareza also cited the GOCC Governance Act of 2011 that includes a performance evaluation of all GOCCs.
"It is unfortunate that the Philhealth Board of Directors decided to issue and release this new circular while the nation is grieving over the deaths of so many of our compatriots in Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and other parts of the Visayans and Mindanao regions. We question the timing, the lack of consultations, and the inexplicable haste by which this new circular is now being imposed not only on our OFWs but on all workers covered by Philhealth," Susan Ople said.
Jun Aguilar of the Filipino Migrant Workers' Group who was a former OFW in Saudi Arabia said that most OFWs are not even aware of the benefits due them as Philhealth members. "My son is an OFW and he relies on the more efficient health care system in Saudi Arabia rather than Philhealth because that is where he is situated. Why should he now pay triple the cost of premium to enable Philhealth to meet its own internal targets?"
Aguilar also cited a provision in the Amendments to the Migrant Workers' Act otherwise known as Republic Act No. 10022 that prohibits any increases in government fees for services rendered to OFWs.
Another OFW advocate, Luther Custodio, objected to the planned increase and called for a more intensified information campaign from Philhealth about its "revolutionary" changes to the current national health program.
Moves to oppose the Philhealth premium increases are set to snowball with the participation of OFW bloggers that founded the annual Philippine Expat/OFW Bloggers Award (PEBA). PEBA founder Jebee Solis who is based in Saudi Arabia said his group will blog against the new Philhealth circular citing the fact that most foreign companies obtain health insurance for foreign workers.
Philhealth officials who were present during the consultative meeting with the NGOs promised to report to the Board the concerns of the OFW sector on the impact of the abrupt increase in Philhealth premiums on the expenses of every departing worker, and on those wanting to renew their memberships.
"We are appealing to the Philhealth leadership to be more considerate given these extraordinarily difficult times. Every OFW with relatives in calamity-stricken areas will be relied upon to help defray the rebuilding of homes, and the sustenance of their surviving kin. We seek a deferment of Philhealth Circular No. 022 pending more extensive consultations and so that all of us can focus our efforts and attention in helping out those devastated by the floods in Mindanao," the civil society leaders said.