MANILA – Several senators on Monday urged the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to altogether suspend the collection of premium contributions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said PhilHealth should consider “delaying” the collection of premium payments of OFWs, or the proposed premium rate hikes, in order to alleviate the plight of our migrant workers, especially those whose jobs were severely affected by the pandemic.
“Ang hinihingi ko lamang ay mabigyan natin ng kinakailangang ‘palugit’ ang mga OFWs sa kabila ng pinapasan nilang hirap ngayon. Lahat ng palugit na pwede natin maibigay sa panahon ng krisis, ibigay na po natin. Sabi nga nila, in times of crisis, every single peso saved counts(What I’m only asking is to give our OFWs the needed respite in light of the current hardships they are experiencing. Let’s give them all the relief that we can provide in times of crisis. As the saying goes, in times of crisis, every single peso saved counts),” he said in a statement.
The chair of the Senate Committee on Health likewise called on PhilHealth to amend its circular where even “Overseas Filipinos in Distress” are required to pay premium contributions.
He also urged the state insurer to strengthen its information drive for Filipinos to better understand where their contributions are going, and the extent of benefits they get for themselves and their families.
“Kailangan nating mas lalong magtulungan at magbayanihan para mapagaan ang pinapasan ng kapwa nating Pilipino at malampasan ang krisis na ito bilang isang nagkakaisang bansa (We have to work and cooperate with each other more to alleviate the burdens of our fellow Filipinos and overcome this crisis as one nation),” Go said.
Senator Joel Villanueva said that while the implementing rules and regulation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) law (RA 11223) mandates the higher premium payment for OFWs, “common sense dictates PhilHealth should cancel/postpone premium rate hikes at this point in time”.
“We supported the Universal Health Care Law because we want health coverage for all Filipinos… we want better and more benefits for our Filipino kababayans who are often crippled with devastating financial burdens in case of sickness. The UHC was not envisioned in any way to be an additional burden for our citizens, but as a shared goal to achieving universal healthcare for all,” he said in a separate statement.
Villanueva added that his office will discuss the issue further with PhilHealth and check if the circular is consistent with the UHC.
Senator Sonny Angara echoed Villanueva’s sentiments, saying that the timing for the implementation of higher premium contributions is “very unfortunate given the economic crisis worldwide”.
“At a time when people are losing jobs or taking pay cuts and business is suffering in general, we should think of alternative ways to fund PhilHealth,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also called for a moratorium on the collection of the hiked contributions, saying its implementation is “ill-timed”.
“It is not unknown that our OFWs are one of the most affected sectors of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the spirit of compassion, the government should not find it hard to impose a moratorium on the increase of this contribution,” he said, pointing out that UHC has other sources of funding besides PhilHealth membership contribution.
Likewise, he said that the Bayanihan to Heal As One allows the national government to free up more resources, realign and reprogram its budget.
“Soon we will be discussing the 2021 budget, we can discuss a possible bigger subsidy for Philhealth under the GAA to enable the same to address the Covid-19 pandemic,” Drilon said.
On the other hand, Senator Risa Hontiveros called for an immediate review of the IRR of RA 11223.
She said the review should be done by PhilHealth, together with the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), in close consultation with OFWs.
“The guidelines should take into consideration the economic plight of overseas Filipino workers, lalung-lalo na ngayong panahon ng (especially in this time of) Covid-19,” Hontiveros said.
Earlier in the day, President Rodrigo Duterte directed PhilHealth to make the payment of premiums voluntary for OFWs.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the decision of Duterte is for the government not to impose additional financial burden for OFWs, especially at this time when so many of them are repatriated and have lost their jobs. (IA/PNA)