MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to implement the voluntary paying of premium by overseas Filipino workers (OFW), Malacañang said on Monday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced that Duterte made this directive after OFW groups criticized PhilHealth’s move to increase by .25 percent the premium contribution of OFWs starting this year.
“Nag-issue ng direktiba ang ating Presidente sa PhilHealth para gawing boluntaryo po ang pagbabayad ng mga OFWs ng PhilHealth premiums (The President issued a directive to PhilHealth to make voluntary the paying of premiums by OFWs),” Roque said in a virtual presser.
As OFWs continue to struggle with the impact of the new coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, Roque said Duterte made this decision in order to ease their burden.
“Habang meron tayong krisis, ang naging desisyon ng ating Presidente ‘wag na muna tayo magpataw ng karagdagang pahirap sa ating mga OFWs lalung-lalo na sa panahon na napakadami sa kanila ang nare-repatriate at nawalan na rin ng trabaho (While there is an ongoing crisis, the President decided not to implement additional burden to our OFWs especially since many of them are getting repatriated and losing their jobs),” he said.
Roque said Health Secretary Francisco Duque has also suspended an item in the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Universal Health Care (UHC) law which increases OFWs’ mandatory contribution.
He said the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) will no longer require OFWs to pay higher contribution rates before being issued with an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC).
OFWs who fail to pay their PhilHealth premium contributions will still receive their benefits, he added.
“Nakasaad po sa batas na ating sinulong na kapag hindi nakapagbayad ng premiums, hindi po ‘yan dahilan para mawalan ng benepisyo. So, kahit na 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 (It’s stated in the law we pushed for that if OFWs fail to pay their premiums, it won’t be a reason for them to lose their benefits. So, whatever happens, the state will take care of them because it is part of the obligation of the state to provide Filipinos with quality health services),” he said.
Not part of UHC law
As former Kabayan party-list representative and one of the principal authors of the UHC bill in the 17th Congress, Roque also explained that the increase in PhilHealth’s premium contribution is not in the law, but part of implementing rules and regulations (IRR) crafted by the state health insurer.
“Wala po sa batas na nagsasabi na dapat patawan ang OFWs ng karagdagang premium sa pamamaraan na nais pong ipatupad ng PhilHealth. ‘Yan po ay nasa implementing rules and regulations para lang po sa kaalaman ng lahat (It’s not in the law that OFWs should pay additional premium. That is found in the IRR for everybody’s information),” he said.
He said he was not consulted when the IRR was being drafted.
Roque, meanwhile, assured that Duterte will not tolerate corruption within the PhilHealth and that complaints against former and current PhilHealth officials for their alleged inaction on a scam involving the issuance of fake premium receipts to OFWs are now filed before the Ombudsman.
“Zero tolerance po ang Presidente sa korupsyon. Nakabinbin po sa Ombudsman ang mga kaso at inaasahan po natin na ang bagong liderato ng PhilHealth ay tignan naman at pag-aralan itong mga reklamong ito (The President has zero tolerance for corruption. There are cases filed before the Ombudsman and we are expecting the new leadership of the PhilHealth to look into these complaints),” he said.
Under PhilHealth Circular No. 2020-0014 dated April 2, the “premium of overseas Filipinos shall be computed based on their monthly income, to be paid in Philippine peso equivalent, in accordance with the terms of payment and corresponding due dates as prescribed by the corporation.”
The circular mandates OFWs earning a monthly income of PHP10,000 to PHP 60,000 to pay 3 percent of their monthly salary, higher than the 2.75 percent in 2019.
In a tweet, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin hit the contribution hike saying it would “not benefit the OFWs at all.”
Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno strongly opposed the PhilHealth decision describing it as an “additional burden” for OFWs amid the prevailing health crisis while an online petition on Change.org has gained more than 300,000 signatures for the repeal of PhilHealth’s move. (ia/PNA)