Nobody wins

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    IN perhaps one of the fastest issues to be non-resolved by the clown show that is this Duterte administration, this past Monday, Rodrigo Duterte issued verbal instructions to state health insurer PhilHealth to make optional the payment of premiums by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). This pronouncement follows objections from OFWs on what they claim was unfair treatment in having their premium payments pegged at 3% of their income.

    ‘Perhaps throwing people under a bus is some kind of official Malacanang pastime. I wonder how the scoring system goes.’

    To be clear: the 3%-of-income premium rate isn’t unique to OFWs. Generally speaking, everyone who is either gainfully employed or who is registered as a self-contributing professional or self-employed individual has to pay that rate, subject to a salary floor of P10,000 and a salary ceiling that is presently at P60,000. It’s in the law itself, R.A. 11223, better known as the Universal Health Care Act of 2019. And under this law, PhilHealth has no discretion to change the rates, or even to “ahem” make premium payments optional.

    On that note, what Duterte did is such a trapo PR move. What he has effectively done is throw Philhealth management under a bus for implementing a law that Duterte himself signed into existence.

    And just to double down on the trapo-ness of things, Presidential spokesperson and one of the planet’s “Top People Who Should Never Be On Tiktok Ever Again” Harry Roque claimed that the law does not authorize PhilHealth to collect OFW premium payments in the way it wanted to – which was either a partial payment followed by quarterly payments, or a full up-front annual payment. As one of the recognized authors of the UHCA during his stint in the House of Representatives, it is quite strange for Roque to phrase his statement in this way. It is disingenuous at least, woefully misleading at worst. PhilHealth, as the implementing agency for the UHCA, was given wide latitude under the law to craft the implementing rules and regulations of the law. The law does not limit the means by which PhilHealth could collect premiums from anybody, including OFWs.

    Perhaps throwing people under a bus is some kind of official Malacanang pastime. I wonder how the scoring system goes. Points = salary grade of the person thrown, maybe? Double points if Salary Grade 27 or above? I know a prime candidate working in the OWWA, if anyone in Malacañang is interested.

    PhilHealth’s pushback has been nothing if not calm. In the fallout of Duterte’s “optional payment” pronouncement, PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo C. Morales released a statement basically lecturing everyone on a) what the law says, b) how the sum of OFW premium payments are far outstripped by the sum of the claims filed by OFWs and their dependents, and c) the fact that PhilHealth cannot amend the law to accommodate the OFW clamor. Says Morales: “PhilHealth commits to continue exploring means to soften and alleviate the impact of premium rate increase, but it cannot change the Law.”

    It’s the closest thing to a middle finger I’ve seen one of Duterte’s appointees give him.

    So, where are we now? PhilHealth will seemingly continue to look for ways to collect premium payments, just in ways that won’t make OFWs instinctively reach for their pitchforks. Meanwhile, the DDS working abroad are all broad smiles over Duterte’s inutile PR announcement. Nobody wins, but everyone walks away from the fiasco, feeling like winners.

    At least until the next time an OFW who treated PhilHealth premium payments as “optional” tries to file a claim.