MANILA — Migrants group Migrante International and United Filipinos in Hongkong filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking for a temporary restraining order on the 160 percent Philhealth rate hike being imposed on overseas Filipino workers.
“We are angered by this most recent imposition especially in the light of the continuous spate of price hikes and state exactions on OFWs and on the Filipino people. This is another form of ‘kotong’(extortion) being imposed on OFWs without proper consultation with the sector and other stakeholders,” Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante Sectoral Party, said.
Last March 14, 2014, a picket was held simultaneously with the filing of the petition. Former overseas Filipino workers and their families who joined the protest called the Philhealth rate hike as “Phildeath: Your partner in death,” mocking its original tagline “your partner in health.”
Philhealth originally intended to hike its premium rates to P2,400 back in 2012 through Circular No. 007 series of 2012. This, however, was met with protests, forcing Philhealth to defer its implementation and eventually reduce the increased rates to P1,200 instead.
A year later, Philhealth imposed another 100 percent rate increase from P1,200 to P2,400 through its Circular No. 0025 series of 2013.
Both of the said increases in the Philhealth premium rate, according to Migrante International, have no legal basis.
The petition filed by the migrants groups would supplement the one filed by labor groups Kilusang Mayo Uno and the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights last January.
In the petition, migrant groups said the increase in Philhealth premium rates violates two existing laws. First it is a violation of Republic Act No. 8042 as amended by RA 10022 or the Migrants Act of 1995, which prohibits increases in government-imposed fees on Filipinos leaving to work abroad. Second, it violates Republic Act No. 10606 or the National Health Insurance Act of 1995, which stipulates that the contribution schedule shall be the determined by Philhealth on the basis, among others of “applicable actuarial studies.”
Section 28 states: “All members who can afford to pay shall contribute to the Fund, in accordance with a reasonable, equitable and progressive contribution schedule to be determined by the Corporation on the basis of applicable actuarial studies…”
“In other words, there must be an actuarial study supporting such increase in contributions. Unfortunately, the said circular does not mention anything about an actuarial study being conducted to serve as basis for the decision to increase Philhealth contributions,” the petition stipulated.
Petitioners also noted that the increase in mandatory contributions is not reasonable, equitable or progressive, as stipulated in the law.
“A justification given by Philhealth is that it will entitle Philhealth members to in-patient hospital care, out-patient coverage and other special benefit packages under the National Health Insurance Program,” the petition read.
“Yet, a look at the records of Philhealth will show that it can attain these objectives without adopting the drastic increase in its contribution schedules,” the petition added.
The petition further added that the increase violates Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, which states that, “Upon approval of this act, all fees being charged by any government office on migrant workers shall remain at their present levels and the repatriation bond shall be abolished.”
Marred with issues
Petitioners said the hike in Philhealth contributions came at a “very opportune time when the Commission on Audit reported that in 2012, Philhealth issued some P1.5 billion in bonuses and allowances to its top officials and employees.”
These bonuses and allowances include: productivity incentive allowance, anniversary bonus, Christmas package, representation expenses, birthday gift, corporate transition and achievement premium, among others.
“The Board of Directors of Philhealth, for instance, awarded a bonus of P1.2 million to themselves in 2012,” the petition read, adding that “Philhealth had extended hefty bonuses to its contractors. It hired contractors and gave them a total of P6,506,803 as bonuses and gifts like project completion benefits, Christmas package, and special events gifts.”
Members of Philhealth, according to petitioners, have to “wait in long lines, at least for several weeks, to avail themselves of modest benefits from the program. Local members receive a measly refund with Philhealth paying only an estimated 30 percent of the member’s hospital expenses.”
“This only shows that if only respondent Philhealth would use its funds judiciously and would be less capricious in spending its funds, the need for contribution hikes from its members would be obviated,” the petition read.
Petitioners, however, said Filipino migrant workers who contribute to Philhealth fund do not benefit from it as “there is hardly any Philhealth accredited hospital in foreign countries where they work.”
Arlene Castillo, 39, an overseas Filipino worker from 1996 to 2012, said she never benefited from Philhealth, not even her then 10-year-old son who got sick.
“They went to Philhealth to have his hospital expenses covered. But they were told that I was the only one they would cover,” she said.
“This is a mandatory collection and I never benefited from it. And when we are already here in the Philippines and are no longer working abroad, we still are not covered. This is just a way to milk money from OFWs,” Castillo added.
Petitioners said the increase in Philhealth contributions would reduce the take home pay of Filipino migrant workers.
“The money, which OFWs can use to purchase food and finance other basic needs, are surely to suffer a reduction. This is ironic because under the 1987 Constitution, the State is supposed to protect the rights of workers and promote their welfare,” the petition read. (bulatlat.com)
PHOTO CREDIT: J. Ellao (bulatlat.com)