January 4, 2012
KOKO HITS HIKE OF OFW PHILHEALTH PREMIUMS
Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III has strongly criticized the move of PhilHealth to raise membership premiums of overseas Filipino workers from the current 900 pesos to 2,400 pesos starting July 2012, saying this will further unduly burden meager finances of departing OFWs.
Pimentel learned that in a circular by the PhilHealth board, OFW premiums for PhilHealth will be increased by more than one fifty percent (150%) starting July 2012.
Pimentel said it is not only ill-timed, but unreasonable to require overseas filipino workers to dig deeper from their pockets to pay PhilHealth premiums, adding such questionable move warrants an inquiry in the proper Senate committee.
At the same time Pimentel noted that he has not heard of any consultations conducted among OFWs to drastically raise PhilHealth premiums, all the more necessitating a legislative inquiry so a real public hearing can be conducted on this matter.
"It is imperative that the OFWs voices be heard on this matter of raising PhilHealth premiums because this severely affects their already dire financial situation," the Senator from Mindanao added.
Pimentel described the increase as "unreasonable" and "unfair" to millions of overseas workers who are now mandatory members of the state-run national health program, particularly as their contributions amounting to Php 530 million to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration were transferred to PhilHealth in March and April of 2005.
"The increase is not only very steep but it is also very abrupt. I'd like to know how many OFW groups did PhilHealth consult and when such consultations took place," the senator said, adding that such a huge increase aggravates the enormous fees that an OFW must pay prior to leaving the country.
He also questioned the 6-month transition phase authorized by PhilHealth wherein overseas Filipino workers and self-employed Filipinos would be charged Php 1,200 starting January 2012 for their annual premiums as a discounted rate prior to the higher premium slated in July. Beginning July 2012, new members and those renewing their policies would have to pay a uniform rate of Php 2,400.
"Ang ibig sabihin nito ay umpisa ng Enero, ramdam na ng OFWs ang biglang pagtaas ng kanilang premiums sa PhilHealth kahit na wala man lang konsultasyon at pagpapaliwanag mula sa nasabing ahensya," the senator from Mindanao pointed out. ("This means that by January, our OFWs will be confronted with an increase in their PhilHealth premiums without the benefit of consultations with or even an explanation from the said agency.")
The senator from Mindanao asked the PhilHealth Board to explain why it issued Circular No. 022 without holding extensive consultations with overseas Filipino workers and their dependents. Based on Circular No. 022, the increases were in support for the attainment of Universal Health Care and Millennium Development Goals.
"PhilHealth needs to constantly inform the OFWs of the benefits they are entitled to under PhilHealth under both the old and the proposed new premiums," Pimentel added.
Pimentel said that most OFWs are already doing their share of advancing the Millennium Development Goals by providing for the education and other primary needs of millions of Filipino families nationwide.
He also called for a review of PhilHealth benefits for OFWs after noting that parents of OFWs can only be included as dependents if they are 60 years old and above. "Considering that these workers are outside the country, their primary dependents would be their parents rather than themselves. Yet, under the current program, parents of OFWs who are 59 years old and below are disallowed from availing of benefits as dependents. This raises a very valid question on whether PhilHealth has taken into consideration the work and living conditions of overseas workers."
The senator from Mindanao urged PhilHealth to carry out public consultations with various sectors including overseas workers before raising its premiums.
"Transparency and consultations should and must be the hallmarks of the current administration. The PhilHealth Board is no exception. No matter how lofty their intentions are, they cannot railroad such increases without consulting their members," Pimentel stressed.