The timing was unfortunate, but the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. says it is just implementing the law in increasing premium rates from 2.75 percent of a member’s monthly salary to 3 percent. PhilHealth officials are referring to Republic Act 11123 or the Universal Health Care Act of 2018, which mandates a gradual increase in the premiums in increments of .25 percent.
Protests erupted from the ranks of overseas Filipino workers, who decried the timing of the increase amid the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. Some OFWs said they didn’t need PhilHealth coverage overseas. Corruption scandals that hounded the administration of PhilHealth funds in the past have compounded OFWs’ disenchantment with membership in the insurance firm.
PhilHealth officials said the increase was announced as early as November last year through a circular, which was clarified in another circular last month. The officials point out that OFWs’ relatives in the Philippines can also enjoy PhilHealth benefits.
In this pandemic, PhilHealth expenses are soaring due to its coverage of costs for COVID testing and treatment. These are on top of expenditures for the many other medical needs of PhilHealth members. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the government was already hard-pressed to finance the objective of RA 11123 for universal health coverage. The plan was to roll out the program gradually, over several years, with only a few pilot areas included in 2020.
Amid the uproar from OFWs, Malacañang has suspended the increase in the PhilHealth premiums of the workers. The requirement of PhilHealth membership before Filipinos can leave the country for jobs overseas is also on hold. In the absence of formal orders, it’s unclear if the suspensions are good only for the duration of the pandemic. PhilHealth officials stress that the suspensions will worsen the financial situation of the state insurance firm.
The issues involved are as complicated as the measures being imposed to contain the COVID pandemic. At this point, however, the government cannot add to the burdens of OFWs, many of whom are already facing the prospect of losing their jobs or becoming underemployed as a result of the pandemic.