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Mandatory insurance plan scrapped, but higher PhilHealth premiums take effect

02 January 2020

OFWs packing their door-to-door boxes in Central.


By Daisy CL Mandap

There has been a mixed bag of surprises for overseas Filipino workers ahead of the start of year 2020.

First, the good news.  Mandatory insurance for all OFWs, including those renewing their contracts or returning to their workplace, has been dropped from the bill creating the Department of Filipinos Overseas.

That means, only those leaving the country for the first time to work abroad will still be the only ones compelled to pay the USD144 (HK$1,123) annual premium for what’s essentially a life insurance.

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But at the same time, the 50% increase in the yearly premium for PhilHealth coverage has already taken effect this December. From Php2,400, every OFW earning the equivalent of more than Php25,000 a month is now obliged to pay Php3,600.

Both these impending charges, apart from the mandatory SSS contribution of up to Php2,400 per month, form the basis of a protest that a newly formed coalition has asked Consul General Raly Tejada to relay to concerned government agencies in Manila.

Informed that the House of Representatives in Manila has taken out the mandatory insurance provision from the bill creating the new department for OFWs, ConGen Tejada said: “A great day indeed”.

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However, he was unhappy that congressional deliberations on the proposed bill are being carried out without consulting the primary stakeholders, the OFWs.

“While I look forward to better and focused services for Filipinos overseas with the creation of the said Department I hope there will be more hearings and consultations kasi importante na marinig ang kanilang opinion at saloobin patungkol sa panukalang batas,” he said.

The lack of consultation was among the grievances brought to his attention by a group called Rise Against Government Exactions, or Rage, made up mostly of community leaders.

In their initial dialogue with Congen Tejada in November, the group lamented that all the new government fees set to be levied on OFWs were decided upon without prior notice, much less, consultation with them.

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The move to expand compulsory insurance among OFWs was among the provisions of a consolidated bill tabled at the House on Nov 19. Section 46 of the draft legislation provides that compulsory insurance “shall be expanded to cover all overseas Filipino workers, including agency-hires, rehires, name hires or direct hires.”

Employers were supposed to pay for the insurance and the labor attaches on site (or consular officials in their absence) were to require proof of payment before issuing overseas employment certificates to the OFW.

But during a joint committee hearing on the bill on Nov. 26, several members of the House led by Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte reportedly agreed to scrap the provision, along with others that were not directly related to creating the planned government department.

This was confirmed by migrant rights advocate Susan Ople, who sits with the technical working committee that is drafting the proposed measure. Ople said other measures not related to creating the Department were also scrapped, like the one setting up an OFW Malasakit sa Kabayan Fund and another creating an  Overseas Labor Relations Commission.

“May rule kasi sa Congress na one bill, one subject matter,” Ople explained.

Ironically, the one who appeared to have fought hard to retain mandatory insurance in the bill was former Rep. John Bertiz, a recruitment agency owner whose party-list was supposed to represent OFW interests.

But while there was relief for OFWs in this arena, there was none on the implementation of the jacked-up cost of PhilHealth membership. The new rates officially took effect last Dec. 7, or 15 days after the publication of PhilHealth Circular 2019-0009.

In line with this circular, an OFW in Hong Kong will pay Php3,600 per year starting next year, but will gradually be charged more in succeeding years, until the annual premium reaches Php6,000 by the years 2024-2025.

But as the Philippine Overseas Employment Authority  has reportedly refused to make payments to PhilHealth and SSS as a requirement to the issuance of the overseas employment certificate, OFWs are theoretically still not compelled to pay for both charges. That is, until someone comes up with yet another ingenious ploy to squeeze the money out of them.
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