By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Overseas Filipino workers and their families are up against what they say is yet another ploy to milk them for money: a whopping 150 percent increase in health insurance premiums.
Migrante International and its chapters in Hong Kong and the Middle East have issued declarations against the announcement recently made by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation or Philhealth Board that it will raise Philhealth premiums effective July 2012.
The board recently issued Circular No. 022 imposing the 150-percent hike in premium fees to the National Health Insurance Program (NHIP). It will affect all members and enrollees of Philhealth, including OFWs.
Premiums from members will increase to P600 (US$13.95) from P300 (US$6.97) a quarter, or an annual premium of P2,400 (US$55.81). This was explained as a way to offer better benefits for members and to achieve the goal of universal health care.
The new policy is expected to cover all agency-new hires as the Philhealth is a requirement for the Overseas Employment Contract, and overseas professionals.
Migrante chairman Garry Martinez said that OFWs are outraged by scheduled premium increase policy, saying that they are already burdened with many tax impositions. He said that the Benigno Aquino administration has already slashed budgetary expenditures for OFW services, but it continues to charge other questionable fees on OFWs without implementing proper consultation processes with the sector and other stakeholders.
The migrant group staged a picket protest in front of the Philhealth main office in Pasay on Friday, January 13. It has also launched an online petition campaign to oppose the premium hike.
Martinez said that they are also studying allegations that the Philhealth premium may also be a direct violation of Republic Act 8042, as amended by RA 10022, which prohibits increases in government fees for services rendered to OFWs and their dependents.
The migrant leader said that aside from being an unjustified and arbitrary state exaction, the Philhealth premium betrays the true nature of the Aquino administration’s overall economic program in the coming years.
“As we see it, in lieu of implementing direct taxation on the people which are immediately and easily opposed by the public, the government is resorting to schemes that intend to earn direct revenue from the people through fee hikes and impositions on government services and by government owned and controlled corporations like the Philhealth,” he said.
No consultations with OFWs
In Hong Kong, the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK) said that the news of increased premiums is also most unwelcome to OFWs in the special administrative region.
Unifil chairwoman Dolores Balladares said that the government had previously forced OFWs to become mandatory Philhealth members.
“Now it’s again forcing us to pay higher premiums. This is an added to all OFWs. We’re already burdened by so many financial requirements such as the illegal recruitment fees of recruitment agencies. Many of us are also buried in debt to trying repay loans made to financing agencies,” she pointed out.
She also expressed fear that the increased fun in PhilHealth will only be used for corruption.
“There are still a lot of controversies surrounding PhilHealth and how it’s being run. Among these is the issue of bogus claims being funded. What happened to the P530 million (US$ 123,255.81) transferred from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Medicare account to the electoral coffers of ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? OFWs are war that increasing Philhealth’s funds will lead to worsened corruption in the agency,” she said.
Unifil also decried the lack of consultations regarding the pending premium hike. Balladares said that OFWs were not consulted either when the mandatory membership for OFWs to PhilHealth was implemented.
“These new policies that are seriously detrimental to the welfare of OFWs are being implemented without so much as a single consultation with the affected sector,” she said.
Balladares insisted that the Philhealth and the government’s whole health service program is increasingly turning into a “users pay” scheme instead of a government provided service.
“First the government cuts the budget for OFWs and for health services – right now only P1.25 is alloted for every Filipino’s health needs. Now, the government wants OFWs and every other Filipino with Philhealth coverage to pay higher premiums. How can that be right? The government is advancing the concept of higher payment for better health service. OFWs are always cast as the ones with money while the government’s responsibility to us – including health care provision – is deliberately neglected,” she said.
Aside from Philhealth, the Social Security System (SSS) is also proposing a hike in premium fees, while contributions to Pag-Ibig had been made mandatory for OFWs since last year.
Migrnate’s Martinez in the meantime refuted claims by the government that the recent Philhealth premium hike is for the thrust to “attain universal health care”.
“Health care should be free. This most recent hike only illustrates how greedy for profit the government is. Meanwhile, Philhealth services for OFWs have been dismal, unreliable, and in some cases, non-existent for our OFWs,” he said.
Stop Philhealth contributions
Migrante’s chapter in the Middle East for its part said that it would not be surprising if OFWs pull out from hilhealth entirely if the planned increase in premiums pushes through.
Regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said that instead of increasing Philhealth premium hikes, the financial investments of the agency and collection of contributions from members should be rationalized or improved.
In 2009, experts predicted that with the financial problem the health agency is facing, it would go bankrupt in seven years. In 2009, Philhealth had arrears of nearly P20 billion (US$ 465,116,279) in 2009 and still increasing.
Monterona said that it was wrong of the government to pass the burden of keeping Philhealth afloat to ordinary members.
He also said raised the possibility of a conspiracy between the Philhealth Board and Malacanang on the issue of increased premiums, saying that the increase was being packaged as the agency’s contribution to the government’s Universal Health Care and Millenium Development plan.
“Aquino promised that the government will not impose any new taxes this year, but here we are being told that the even state agencies providing basic services such as the Philhealth will increase premiums. This may not be outright taxation, but the effect on the public is still the same,” he said.
Effect on LGUs
The migrant groups are not alone in their stand against the Philhealth premium hikes. In congress, the chairman of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability said that investigations should be made into the new policy, saying that it negatively affect “disenfranchise” millions of PhilHealth members who depend on the subsidy being provided by their local government units (LGUs).
Committee chairman and Iloilo Rep. Jerry Trenassaid that about the new PhilHealth scheme will affects tens of thousands of PhilHealth beneficiaries in Iloilo City alone. He added that other citizens under other LGUs which also depend on the subsidies will also be affected.
“This is a step that runs counter with the government’s mission of providing complete, modern and affordable health care system to all,” he pointed out.
The Philhealth circular calls for the withdrawal of 50 percent of the subsidy being covered by the national government, which would mean a 100 percent increase on the premium being paid by LGUs effective July this year from P1,200 (US$27.90) per member annually to P2,400 (US$55.81).
According to reports, PhilHealth received P5.1 billion (US$ 116,279,069) in subsidies and was “among the top agencies that have received the biggest slice of the P45.205 billion (US$104,651,162) subsidies given out to state-owned corporations.”
The agency is also expected to get a large share of P18.7 billion (US$ 441,860,465) in subsidies to state-owned firms and P1.5 billion (US$ 348,837) more to cover the premiums of 2.9 million poor families.