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Solons ask PhilHealth to reconsider rate hike on OFWs

Solons ask PhilHealth to reconsider rate hike on OFWs

MANILA, Philippines — Several lawmakers asked the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) on Monday to reconsider its move to increase the premium contribution of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), saying that the move “is like charging OFWs with additional taxes.”

ACT-CIS Partylist Rep. Eric Yap, who chairs the House committee on appropriations, said that OFWs do not directly benefit from premium contributions since they are overseas.

Under a PhilHealth circular released in April, OFWs with monthly income of P10,000 to P60,000 are to pay 3 percent of their salary, from a previous rate of 2.75 percent.

“Wala naman talagang direct benefit sa kanila itong premium na ito dahil namamalagi sila sa ibang bansa, na hindi naman abot ng coverage ng Philhealth,” Yap said in a statement.

(OFWs do not have any direct benefit from these premium contributions because they are overseas which is not covered by Philhealth.)

“Para tayong nagpataw ng dagdag buwis sa kanila. May mga mandatory health insurance premium din sa ibang bansa, huwag naman natin pahirapan ng husto ang ating mga kababayan,” he added.

(It’s as if we imposed an additional tax to them. They already have mandatory health insurance premium abroad so let’s not give them additional burden.)

The increase in the contribution, Yap said, would only put additional burden to OFWs especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Lalo na ngayong krisis, hindi na nga nakatanggap ang karamihan sa kanila ng ayuda, babawasan pa ba ang kanilang kikitain na ipapadala naman nila sa kanilang pamilya dito sa bansa? Dugo’t pawis nila ang puhunan para man lang makapagpadala sila para sa naiwang pamilya sa Pilipinas,” Yap said.

(Especially in this crisis when most of them do not receive aid, are we going to deduct further from their salaries that they send to their families here in the Philippines?)

Yap said that the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Universal Health Care (UHC) law can convene to review the said law, saying that the inclusion of migrant workers as direct contributors should be checked.

“Habang wala pang review (While there is no review yet), I urge the Philhealth to implement a moratorium on these fees for OFWs for humanitarian considerations,” Yap said.

The lawmaker said that instead of increasing contributions of OFWs, Philhealth can increase employer shares of companies in the country, especially those who were able to continuously operate despite the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

“’Yung mga negosyanteng malaki ang kinikita, mas dapat sila ang magdagdag para sa benepisyo ng mga empleyado. Hindi yung mga OFWs na halos wala ng maiwan sa sweldo dahil sa hirap ng buhay nila at ng kanilang mga pamilya,” Yap said.

(Businessmen that have huge revenues should be the ones to provide additional benefits for their employees, not OFWs who nearly have nothing left with their salaries due to struggles of their families.)

Deputy Speaker and Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman also opposed Philhealth’s move, urging President Rodrigo Duterte to order the withdrawal of the order.

“Nanawagan ako sa ating Pangulo na pigilin ang implementasyon ng pagtaas singil ng PhilHealth sa mga OFWs (I urge the President to stop the implementation of the rate hike for OFWs). At a time when even verbal orders from him are heeded, a mere pronouncement from him can temporarily stop the collection of fees,” Hataman said.

“I think we are all in agreement that now is not the right time to  impose that particular provision of the UHC Law. Ceasefire muna sa bagong singil (Let’s have a ceasefire first on additional payments),” the lawmaker added.

Alternative methods

Ako Bicol Partylist Rep. Alfredo Garbin, meanwhile, proposed two ways to finance the inclusion of OFWs in universal health coverage as he urged Philhealth to revoke its rate hike for OFWs.

“First step is a one-time pre-departure PhilHealth membership fee of just P1,000.00 to be advanced by the licensed recruitment agency or ship manning agency or 50 percent subsidized by the OWWA,” Garbin said.

“The second step is a simple P20 fee deducted from every remittance or money transfer of any amount,” he added.

Garbin explained that the membership fee and the P20 money transfer charge are credited to the PhilHealth account of the OFW member.

Before documented OFWs leave the country, their Filipino recruitment or manning agency must register them into PhilHealth, Garbin said.

“Nearly all OFWs would rather work abroad than suffer the indignity and financial burden of being lowly-paid laborer here in the Philippines because of our unjust labor laws. In their minds, they do not owe the government anything and refuse to be taxed, but they do expect, on account of their citizenship, that the government be there for repatriation, legal assistance, and OWWA aid,” Garbin said.

“Strictly speaking, OFWs could be taxed and could be paying members of PhilHealth, SSS, and PAG-IBIG. However, it is understandable that they will reject premium contributions because those deductions do not go instantly to their families,” he added.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who was one of the principal authors of the Universal Health Care Bill in Congress, explained that the increase in PhilHealth premium contribution of OFWs was , but part of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) crafted by the state health insurer.