Amid mounting pressure from expats in the UAE and around the world, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has issued a directive to make the national health insurance voluntary for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
In a virtual Press briefing on Monday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in Filipino: "We would like to inform you that the president has issued a directive to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to make OFWs' premium payments voluntary."
Roque then stressed that OFWs leaving the Philippines will no longer be required to pay PhilHealth premiums when they secure their overseas employment certificates.
The move comes after expats called on the government to junk the new policy requiring them to pay three per cent of their income for the national health insurance scheme. The contribution shall also be increased every year until 2024.
Some started online signature drives to make a stand. In one avaaz.org petition launched by a group of OFWs in the Middle East, 160,905 people have already signed within two days of the campaign's posting.
KT reader Sherwin Bayani said: "As an OFW in the UAE, we are covered with better insurance policies, why would we need to pay for something that we may not use? I think this is absurd."
What's next after the president's directive?
Though Filipinos in the UAE welcomed the directive lifting the mandatory contribution, some are wondering how it will be implemented and whether the voluntary membership can be made permanent.
Abu Dhabi expat John Ortega said: "The salary-based PhilHealth contribution and the increase in premiums were already part of the rules and regulations of the universal healthcare act - which was signed into law by the president.
"Now, what will be the implications of this new order?"
Verna Cabonce, a marketing manager in Dubai, said the Philippine government must clarify how the policy change will be applied and implemented.
"While the president has decided to make premium payments optional for now, until when will this be suspended? In the first place, they should have looked into the lives of expats abroad before they have decided to collect such huge amounts of money from Filipinos," Cabonce said.
Under the Philippines' universal healthcare law, overseas Filipinos are classified as 'direct contributors', which means they are obligated to pay and remit their insurance contributions.
Barney Almazar, a Filipino lawyer in Dubai and director of Gulf Law, said this law can possibly be amended with the issuance of the president's directive.
"The OFW community has already voiced out their frustrations. So, I am assuming that later on, even the legislature would do something to amend the law," Almazar said.
"While this development is welcome, we cannot say that we are thankful because this law should not have been passed in the first place."