By William Casis

Sen. Imee Marcos challenged Health Sec. Francisco Duque to make good on his word to support the measure to  permanently  abolish the three percent premium that OFWs pay PhilHealth. 

“It’s been said that if you want something done, you’ll find many ways to get to it; if you don’t, you’ll find many excuses. Let’s stand by our OFWs and finally get this done!” Marcos said.

Duque expressed his support to Marcos’s proposed bill in  last week’s Senate inquiry into the state health care insurer’s fund anomalies.

Marcos asserted that Philhealth can unburden OFWs of the premium deducted from their salaries, by recovering billions lost to leakages in its funds.

Among the fund leakages that may amount to more than what Philhealth would collect from the OFW premium, Marcos cited overpayments of hospital reimbursements for exaggerated illnesses — known as “upcasing,” ghost patients and board and room charges padded on outpatient cases. 

“With thousands upon thousands of OFWs losing their jobs and facing repatriation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, plus the charges of corruption hounding PhilHealth, the three percent premium should no longer be re-imposed,” Marcos said.

President Rodrigo Duterte suspended the collection of the three percent premium last May and made it voluntary, after OFWs expressed surprise over the increase from the previous 2.75 percent rate.

Collection of the OFW premium is provided for in the implementing rules and regulations of the Universal Health Care Act.

“It’s practically extortion. All OFWs are held hostage from taking up their jobs abroad because they cannot get an overseas employment certificate unless they make an advance payment to PhilHealth,” Marcos explained.

“Nor do succeeding contributions to PhilHealth offer OFWs any benefit, since hospitals in their host countries follow a different health care program and do not count on reimbursements from PhilHealth,” Marcos added.  

Marcos also said that PhilHealth has a history of treating OFWs as “milking cows.”

Some PHP530 million in funds from OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) were used by Duque, then the PhilHealth president to print the image of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on five million PhilHealth cards.

The move intended to match the popularity of presidential candidate and late actor Fernando Poe Jr. during the 2004 presidential election, Marcos said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joel Villanueva sought for reintegration programs for displaced OFWs.

Villanueva, chairperson of the  Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development, is seeking from Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) officials about its plans to help OFWs reintegrate in the domestic labor market as demand for workers overseas continue to plummet over the global economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the repatriation of OFWs continues, he said reintegration strategies should be simultaneously implemented so they have alternative means of livelihood.

Just recently, OWWA likewise was granted an additional P5B budget to ensure that repatriation efforts and assistance are uninterrupted.

The lawmaker also intends to ask the IATF, DoH and DOLE on their plans to assist OFWs whose deployments were suspended.