OFW groups hit PhilHealth rate hike
MANILA, Philippines — Advocates of migrant workers deplored new government rules that would exact up to P50,000 from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) even before they leave the country.
Former Labor Undersecretary Susan Ople said the implementing rules of the government’s health care program requires that all land-based OFWs pay their premiums to the state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) before they are issued overseas employment certificates (OECs).
But Ople said that OECs were conceived “to identify and protect OFWs who followed government-prescribed rules on overseas employment.”
“It was never meant to be used by other agencies as a collection tool,” said Ople, daughter of deceased former Sen. Blas F. Ople who dispatched the country’s first official overseas contract workers in the 1970s when he was labor minister.
“The salaries of our domestic workers abroad have been stagnant for more than a decade,” said Ople, who heads the Blas F. Ople Policy Center.
“Asking them to pay that much considering that they will be away from the country for at least two years would cause undue burden given their vulnerable status and work conditions,” Ople said.
Another OFW advocate, foreign employment specialist Emmanuel Geslani, asked how aspiring OFWs could even pay for increased PhilHealth premiums when they have yet to earn anything.
Where will they get money?
“Where will they get the money? If this is enforced, obviously the agencies will shoulder that payment… which is objectionable to the [recruitment] industry,” he said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other health officials signed the new rules on Thursday, only weeks after anomalies at the PhilHealth were uncovered. The anomalies remain unresolved.
Under the new rules, the premium rate for OFWs was also changed from an annual fixed rate of P2,400 salary-based rate to a salary-based rate.
This means that by next year, OFWs would be subjected to the 3-percent premium rate, similarly imposed on professionals and workers in the formal sector.
At an income floor of P10,000 and ceiling of P60,000, an OFW should pay between P3,600 to P21,600 annually.
Reaching the stars in 5 years
By 2025, the premium rate will increase to 5 percent and the income ceiling will be raised to P100,000. At that rate, the annual premium will be between P6,000 and P50,000, depending on one’s income.
The new rules also now require that OFWs submit an “acceptable proof of actual income” and if they fail to do so, they will be charged with the rate based on the income ceiling.
Current PhilHealth rules state that premiums can be “paid in advance for two years to five years, or depending on the duration of the employment contract with the overseas employer.”
Easier to be undocumented
“This makes leaving as tourist workers more enticing to avoid all these predeparture expenses,” Ople said.
Based on Philippine Overseas Employment Association data, the deployment of new hires has slowed down from 582,816 in 2016 to 420,639 last year. The number of rehired workers has also slumped from over a million in 2016 to just a little over 600,000 last year.
Ople noted though that despite the decline, remittances have remained steady.
“What does this mean? Two things: there are more workers leaving through the backdoor and we are no longer as competitive compared to other labor-sending countries since it is getting more expensive to hire Filipinos,” she said.
While both Ople and Geslani recognize the importance of social protection, they stressed that the rates shouldn’t be “astronomical” that it becomes a burden to workers.
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