The Federation of Free Workers (FFW), a huge labor group, has welcomed and expressed full support for Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda’s appeal to the new administration and to Congress for new legislations to overhaul and bring about comprehensive reforms in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
Salceda, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has slammed PhilHealth for imposing “exorbitant” membership fees on overseas Fili[ino workers (OFWs), which could reach as high as P38,400 per year.
PhilHealth had in the past earned criticisms and was called to testify in hearings in Congress for alleged mishandling of the Philippines’ Universal Health Care Law and the government’s COVID-19 response program. Salceda has also urged President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr to include in his priorities the revamp of the ‘broken PhilHealth’.
In its recent statement the labor group declared: “FFW is one with Salceda’s proposal to reform the government’s healthcare system, exempt OFWs from contributions or make OFW contributions voluntary.” Salceda said he will resubmit in the 19th Congress the refined version of HB 7570 or the Philhealth Reform Act, which he principally authored, “which would have reformed the entire system, exempted OFWs from contributions, and billed minimum wage earners only P100 in premiums monthly.”
The Albay lawmaker said the premiums PhilHealth has imposed on OFWs are too expensive: The question is very simple: “What do OFWs stand to gain from their Philhealth contributions when they can’t go to Philippine hospitals abroad?”
Earlier this month, PhilHealth announced it will start implementing the mandatory OFWs’ membership which was suspended in 2020 upon the instruction of President Duterte. Based on its Circular 2020-0014, PhilHealth imposed a schedule of premium percentage rate of the income of OFWs with a corresponding income floor and income ceiling in line with the provisions of Republic Act 11223 or the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act. The mandatory charge was suppose to have started with a 2.75% of the OFWs’ income in 2019, and increase to 4% this year.
Salceda said the amount is “more expensive, frankly, than most general life insurance coverages. And for what? It is literally impossible for an OFW to avail of Philhealth coverage while abroad. So, it’s literally for nothing on their end.”
“I hope to work with the next Secretary of Health and Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno on reforming the Philhealth. I do hope that reforming healthcare is among the top priority agenda in President BBM’s list,” Salceda said, adding he “will convene the stakeholders again to see how we can further refine and champion the Philhealth Reform Act.”
HB 7570 proposes systemic reforms in the PhilHealth collection system, Resrve Fund management, distribution and verification of claims and benefits, and the agency’s governance. Under the bill, the premium contribution scheme is made more progressive by linking the income tax rate with a premium contribution.
“We are tying the premium contribution to income and are setting an income ceiling system. Under the old scheme, the more you earn above the ceiling, the less you pay as a share of income. This is of course not progressive. We are improving the system by linking it with income,” Salceda explained.
“So, what I want to do basically, is to lift the income cap so that the rich will pay significantly more, while the average worker will pay significantly less,” he said. HB 7570 also seeks to reform the PhilHealth governance structure by making the Secretary of Finance as Chair of its Board because it is “an insurance and investment agency, PhilHealth needs the same caliber of management in the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS),” he added.
Salceda noted that “GOCCs (government-owned and controlled corporations) under the Secretary of Finance also seem to be better governed than other GOCCs.” For reform in the reserve fund management, the bill proposes making the Bureau of Treasury the fund manager of the investment reserve fund, accumulating net income into the reserve fund, and removing the two-year ceiling in fund life.
To prevent fraud in the reporting of cases, the bill mandates the creation of the national health database of all claims and benefits requested from and granted by PhilHealth. The one-patient, one-record principle will be followed, and an independent audit of the PhilHealth shall be required.
The bill likewise requires the PhilHealth president to report to the President of the Philippines and to Congress on measures the agency has taken to address adverse audit findings.