300,000 sign online petition opposing increase in OFW PhilHealth contributions

(UPDATED) An online petition urging the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to scrap its directive to increase the mandatory contribution of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to 3% of their monthly salary for the year 2020 has received some 300,000 signatures since the campaign was started in late April. 

(Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story said that the Change.org petition with the 300,000 signatures was started on April 30. However, it was another, albeit, similar campaign also on Change.org, that was launched on April 30. This petition has received nearly 15,000 signatures. We apologize for the confusion.)

A group named OFWs started a petition on Change.org entitled, "Remove PhilHealth Mandatory 3% Payment from OFW’s Salary." 

Their petition assailed PhilHealth Circular No. 2020-0014 dated April 2 which covers Filipinos abroad, including OFWs.

The circular states that for OFWs with monthly salaries between P10,000 and P60,000, their monthly PhilHealth contribution will be 3% of their salaries, up from 2.75% in 2019.

The monthly premium will increase by 0.5 percentage points every year afterwards until it reaches 5% by 2024.

The circular declared that OFWs "are classified as direct contributors" under Republic Act No. 11223 or the Universal Health Care Act. Because of this, PhilHealth said, "payment and remittance of premium contributions is mandatory." 

In 2020, which the PhilHealth declared a transition year, the amount of P2,400 will be the initial payment.

By January 1, 2021, the minimum initial payment is "a 3-month premium based on the prescribed rate at the time of payment." The balance can then be paid in full or in quarterly payments within the one-year payment settlement period.

Members who fail to pay the premium in time "shall be required to pay all missed contributions with monthly compound interest," added the circular. 

'Unfair, inhumane'

The Change.org petition said that OFWs, as well as their dependents, "have been already struggling amidst [the coronavirus] pandemic and yet PhilHealth had issued a very unfair memo regarding premium payments."

The petition said that it is "already too much of them to ask for an interest rate and a penalty which is very unfair and inhumane for those who travel away from their families to work."

"It is very unfortunate that they call OFWs modern heroes and yet they penalize us with such directives," it added.

A joint statement of over 100 Filipino migrant groups worldwide also opposed the proposed collection, saying the increase "overburdens OFWs who are already troubled by retrenchments and loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recession."

They also argued that many OFWs "are not even covered" by President Rodrigo Duterte's cash aid program for OFWs through the labor department. 

Repatriated OFWs have likewise been "crying out [to] the government for steady and efficient amelioration," their statement said.

They also pointed out that OFWs are "already covered by existing insurance and healthcare programs in their host countries" and that regular PhilHealth contributions are already part of requirements to get an overseas employment certificate (OEC).

The groups then demanded a stop on the mandatory Philhealth premium exaction, enforce a "moratorium on all state exactions" during the coronavirus pandemic, remove punitive penalties, and junk the OEC.

Duterte signed RA 11223 in February 2019. – Rappler.com