Failure of the Duterte administration to consult the migrant workers before implementing the Universal Healthcare Act (UHA) has sparked widespread discontent among Filipinos in Italy.
Tens of thousands of overseas Filipino workers and their families in Italy held a simultaneous protest action in different regions and major cities of Italy last Sunday, May 31, to oppose the Universal Healthcare Law in the Philippines and the 3% mandatory contribution and membership of all Filipinos working abroad for PhilHealth, the implementing body of the UHA.
Overseas Filipino Workers Watch in Italy, an alliance of Filipino organizations in Italy, led the protest action.
The alliance is urging the present administration toamend the Republic Act 11223, known as the Universal Healthcare Act (UHA), and cancellation of the circular 2020 0014.
The alliance claimed that the Universal Health Act is “inutile” as it will not truly address the health service needed for the overseas Filipinos living abroad.
Under the UHA, overseas workers are considered as direct contributors. The payment and remittance of premium has also been made compulsory to all overseas Filipinos, they said.
The group also said that failure to comply with the mandatory contribution will lead to the non-issuance of Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC), a piece of document that would allow the free movement of Filipino migrant workers with a valid working contract in and out of the country. The alliance views this as an abuse and an offence against the overseas workers and their families.
In the major cities in northern Italy like Milan, Turin, Venice and Genoa Filipinos staged a protest calling on the Duterte administration to exempt Filipinos working abroad in the mandatory contribution.
The ACFIL, a cultural organisation of Filipinos in Turin claimed that it is a burden to all Filipinos working abroad as wages of Filipino migrants steadily plateaued for almost a decade.
Similar protests have been seen in Rome, Florence, Naples, Sicily, Cosenza, Cagliari and other big cities in the southern part of Italy.
“The Duterte regime should amend the law. Suspension of the mandatory contribution will not appease the rage of the Filipinos for such large-scale corruption in the guise of healthcare investment,” said Demetrio*, an overseas worker in Rome.
“It is unfair that our hard-earned contributions will be diverted into the hands of private corporations, which is profit oriented,” he added.
The Filipino migrants in Italy claimed that it is not worth to pay the healthcare coverageas PhilHealth is not in the country. Italy has a national healthcare system that is far more systematic and advanced compared to the newly created law.
“I am worried for my children because if we return back in the Philippines, we are obliged to pay for a health insurance that it has never been availed” said Tessie*, a migrant worker from Biella.
Many migrant workers believed they will be buried in debt if they fail to pay the contribution that is computed with compounded interest.
“It appears to be that migrant workers were persecuted and driven to misery by this law,” said one of the protest organizers, who refused to be identified.
Back in the Philippines, authors of the UHA pointed out that the law includes reforms that would pave the way towards more advanced healthcare service for all Filipino citizens in the long run.
Under the Act, Filipino citizens will be automatically enrolled in the newly-established National Insurance Program (PhilHealth). The program has defined 2 types of membership: The direct contributors – those who are employed by employers, self-earning, professional practitioners, and migrant workers and their qualified dependents; and the indirect contributors – Filipino citizens, along with their qualified dependents, whose health premiums are subsidised by the government.
Under the UHA, all Filipino citizens shall be granted a “full access” to the broad spectrum of health care which include curative, preventive, palliative, promotive, and rehabilitative service. The coverage is applicable to medical, dental, mental and emergency health services.
Filipinos are given the opportunity to choose their own primary health care provider, the law says. The Health care provider will also act as a medium in referring and coordinating to other health centres if a patient needs further treatment. Insurers no longer have to present their Philhealth ID to avail of these benefits.
However, the law states that not all services will be made free of charge by PhilHealth. The law defined that only basic services and accommodations will be covered by Philhealth. For instance, if one patient was rushed to the hospital, he/she can only avail a regular meal, shared ward with toilet, bath and fan ventilation. Basic health care need such as medicines, diagnostic, and laboratory test are placed in a “health package”. It also includes rehabilitative, curative, preventive and palliative care.
Patients who wish to stay in a hospital offering a private accommodation with air-conditioning, telephone, television and meal choices will no longer be free. In addition, public and private hospital are given the instruction to allot certain portion of beds for PhilHealth.
Public hospitals should allocate approximately 90% of their beds while private hospitals were only allowed to allocate 10% of their beds to UHC premium holders. Any services outside of the “health package” shall be shouldered by the patient.
In addition, current case rates for illnesses that the Philhealth has crafted will remain. Concerned government agencies are also expected to design benefit services for outpatient to be covered by the National Insurance Programs.
Given the current highprofileprotest against the law, it is not surprising that the government has announced that the mandatory contribution for migrant workers shall be suspended.
On May 04, Malacanang spokesperson Roque announced the temporary suspension due to COVID-19 economic impact on overseas workers.
However, this writer, as the president of the alliance who led the protest, believed that the law should be amended as it is not beneficial to migrant workers. There are many resources for funding the Healthcare system in the Philippines.
This reporter argues that should the government halt the large-scale corruption, a more innovative and advanced health care service could be easily availed.
*Requested for their last names to be withheld for security reasons.
(Reporting by RhoderickOple, Rights Corridor contributor; Editing by HAM)
Disclaimer: All views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author and do not represent the opinion of Rights Corridor as an organization.