PhilHealth and Universal Healthcare Law
PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero Ballescas (The Freeman) - May 7, 2020 - 12:00am

At the onset of the pandemic, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) gallantly assured the public not to worry as the testing and hospitalization costs of Covid-19 patients were to be borne completely by the agency.

By April, PhilHealth announced that P6 billion of a P30-billion allocation for hospitalization reimbursements for Covid had been disbursed.

As more cases were recorded, however, PhilHealth flip-flopped.

The agency would still cover all costs of Covid-19 patients but only prior to April 15. Under the new package, from April 15 onwards, PhilHealth benefits would cover costs depending on the severity of the patient’s condition: mild pneumonia - P43,997, moderate pneumonia - P143,267, severe pneumonia - P333,519 and critical pneumonia - P786,384. These April 15 PhilHealth benefits fell short of the real staggering costs (millions of pesos) incurred by Covid-19 patients!.

The public protested, raised questions, with others demanding an investigation to check the existing funds of PhilHealth, to review how the agency spends these public funds intended for the Filipinos, and more importantly, to check if PhilHealth has enough funds for Covid-19 related cases.

While everyone continued to be preoccupied with the pandemic, their daily lives and needs, out of the blue, PhilHealth published Circular 2020-0014, signed April 2, 2020 which mandated all overseas Filipinos to pay a premium (3% of their monthly salary) before their Overseas Employment Certificate would be issued.

While PHilHealth lamely explained that the premium increase was slight and the increase mandated in Item 10 2 (c) of the implementing rules and regulations of the Universal Health Care Act RA 11223 signed into law by Du30 February 20, 2019, PhilHealth failed to explain WHY it published that insensitive circular in April , at a crucial time when our people here and abroad were , then and until now, still battling the adverse impact of the coronavirus on their households!

More than 400,000 OFWs took to social and mainstream media and demanded why PhilHealth seemed to be milking them for funds during this critical time.

The public uproar pushed Du30 to immediately issue a May 4 directive stating that 1) OFWs should pay premiums to PhilHealth on a voluntary basis and 2) the payment of PhilHealth premium no longer a requirement before OFWs can secure an overseas employment certificate.

While Health Secretary Francisco Duque III suspended the provision in the implementing rules and regulations on the mandatory increase in premium payments for OFWs, please note carefully that the Du30 directive continues the premium payments of the overseas Filipinos (on a voluntary basis) and the suspension valid only “ while we are still dealing with the COVID-19 crisis!”

Overseas Filipinos, their dependents and supporters need to remain vigilant and together demand, at the soonest time possible, the following suggested by the Senator Risa Hontiveros and the Center of Migrant Advocacy:

a) a review of the implementing rules and regulations or IRR for the Universal Healthcare Law (Republic Act No. 11223) by PhilHealth and DOH, b) in consultations with OFWs who are some of the most vulnerable sectors affected by the global pandemic, c) the convening of the oversight committee on the Universal Healthcare Law (UHCL), and d) a thorough review of funds and allocations and the current benefits package and delivery provided by PhilHealth especially to OFWs.

Senator Hontiveros recognized that “the UHCL is one that could help millions of Filipinos in the long term but its implementation should be reviewed properly for the benefit of all concerned.”

The Center of Migrant Advocacy reminded all that since the UHCL is new, suggestions and revisions should be forwarded, even demanded, for the benefit of Filipinos and their families, here and abroad.

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