By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) is not keen on making permanent the payment of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) contributions on a voluntary basis, saying this might compromise the rollout of the country’s national health insurance program.
During the joint congressional oversight hearing on the implementation of the Republic Act No. 11223 or the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act, Philhealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales clarified that the voluntary payment of OFW premiums is only valid during the national health emergency.
Last month, President Duterte earlier ordered the Philhealth to make the payment of premiums for OFWs voluntary after they protested the Philhealth’s circular requiring them to pay three percent of their monthly salaries this year, an increase from last year’s 2.75 percent.
Departing OFWs were also required to pay an initial of P2,400 before the issuance of their overseas employment certificates (OEC) from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
While they have complied with Duterte’s directive, Morales said the Philhealth cannot make permanent the voluntary payment unless the law is amended.
“Regarding the voluntary aspect, because that is specified in the law, I think it will need an amendment of the law so it will become voluntary. On the OEC, we have no problem, we will already eliminate that,” Morales explained in a mix of English and Filipino.
He pointed out to lawmakers that the increase in the OFW premium were based on the provisions of the RA 11223, particularly Section 10 which spells out the annual increases in the rates.
For 2020, the premium rate shall be three percent for a monthly income ranging from P10,000 to P60,000. Staring net year, this will increase by 0.50 percent until the premium rate reaches five percent in 2025 for incomes between P10,000 to P100,000.
Morales also disagreed when asked if he agrees to institutionalize the voluntary payment of OFWs in the implementation of the UHC.
“I’m sorry, but the foundation [of insurance], is not somebody must be paying for their benefit. It will compromise the fundamental argument for insurance,” Morales said.
“A segment of the membership cannot be voluntary because the other membership segments might also ask for the same privilege. Baka makompromiso ho yong ating national health insurance program (Our national health insurance will be compromised),” he noted.
Earlier in the hearing, he raised to lawmakers that the Philhealth will ask for a P138.09 billion subsidy for the implementation of the UHC law.
The Philhealth initially asked for a P153 billion budget for the UHC this year, but received only P71.35 billion. He said was “not enough” to fund the premium of all indirect contributors, affecting Philhealth’s capacity to cover all the benefits.
As of April 30, the Philhealth was only able to collect a total of P46.57 billion in premiums against its benefit expense of P52.54 billion.
“In other words, we are spending 13 centavos more per peso than we collect as premium collection,” Morales lamented.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Morales said they expect much lower collections and suffer deficits from 2020 to 2024.
Still, Morales reiterated that OFWs contributions are no longer a condition for OEC issuance, and that OFWs will still remain members of the Philhealth.
He said they will review the law’s implementing rules and regulations to remove the premium payment as a condition for OEC issuance.
“With regards to the Overseas Employment Certificates, we’ll no longer implement it,” he said.
“We will review this provision of the IRR and then we will comply with the directive of the President to make the premium contributions of OFWs compliant with the new provisions as required by the President,” he added.