OFWs seek TRO vs. 160% Philhealth premium hike

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos Migrante International, Migrante Sectoral Party and the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK), together with individual overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) petitioners, today sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Supreme Court against the 160% Philhealth premium hike imposed on agency-hired OFWs.

The petition is to supplement the earlier TRO filed by Kilusang Mayo Uno and the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) last January.

OFWs filed a TRO on basis that the increase violated the Migrants’ Act of 1995, or Republic Act 8042, as amended by RA 10022 which prohibits increases in government fees for services for OFWs; that the Philhealth acted with grave abuse of discretion for its lack of consultations and for arbitrarily imposing the increase; and, that the 160% increase is an unreasonable, unequitable and regressive fee imposition on OFWs.

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation or Philhealth Board recently imposed a 100% hike in premium fees to the National Health Insurance Program (NHIP). The hike was effective last January 2014 and affected all members and enrollees of Philhealth, including overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Before this, Philhealth capriciously raised its premium from P900 to P1,200 despite Philhealth Board Circular No. 007, series of 2012, declaring its postponement of the implementation of the premium increase on OFWs “in consideration of the request of civil society and non-government organizatons to defer the implementation of said premium in light of the global crisis resulting in the repatriation of a number of OFWs.”

“The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has not issued any circular or order authorizing recruitment agencies to collect the additional premium of P1,500. In fact, agencies are only allowed to collect the P900 Philhealth membership fee. This has not been amended by the POEA since the Philhealth first proposed to increase from P900,” said Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Sectoral Party chairperson.

Because of this, the petitioners stated that both the earlier (P900-P1,200) and recent (P1,200-P2,400), all in all a 160% hike in premium, have no legal basis.

Bragas-Regalado said that the increase from P900 to P1,200 was “therefore illegal and should be refunded to OFWs who were forced to pay”, and that the recent hike from P1,200 to P2,400 should be scrapped.

“We are angered by this most recent fee imposition especially in light of the continuous spate of price hikes and state exactions on OFWs and the Filipino people. This is another form of ‘kotong’ being imposed on OFWs without proper consultation with the sector and other stakeholders,” she said.

Bragas-Regalado refuted claims by the government that the recent Philhealth premium hike is for the thrust to “attain Universal Health Care”. “Health care should be free. This most recent hike only illustrates how greedy for profit the government is. Meanwhile, Philhealth services for OFWs have been dismal, unreliable, and in some cases, non-existent for our OFWs.”

Migrante International chapters in Hong Kong have already launched big protest actions of OFWs against the Philhealth premium increase. More protests are expected worldwide, she said. ###