Philhealth thumbs down proposed hospital for OFWs

The head of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. rejected on Wednesday proposals in the Senate to put up a hospital exclusively for overseas Filipino workers and their dependents.

Lorna O. Fajardo, acting Philhealth president and chief executive officer, said at a joint public hearing of the Senate committees on health and labor that it would be more sensible to use the money intended for the proposed hospital to augment existing medical facilities run by the government.

“Another hospital that cannot be fully equipped will just add up to the number of ill-equipped hospitals, “ Fajardo pointed out.

Besides, she stressed that the needs of OFWs and members of their families are no different from those of ordinary Filipinos, and that they should not be accommodated separately.

Fajardo said there are around 700,000 OFWs enrolled in Philhealth, each contributing P900 membership fee before going to their destination countries.

While Fajardo acknowledges that there are certain peculiarities in the OFWS’ cases, she said Philhealth does not support putting up a separate hospital exclusively for migrant workers.

Senate President Protempore Jinggoy Estrada filed in July Senate Bill 421, or the Migrant Workers Hospital Act of 2007, to ensure availability, accessibility of comprehensive health-care services to all migrant workers and their dependents.

Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. and Sen. Lito Lapid also filed separate bills for the construction of an OFW medical facility.

Vilar’s bill appropriates P5 million as government’s contribution for the initial operations and maintenance of the “OFW Medical Center.” It also provides that the government would “contribute the necessary land, building equipment and facilities” to the hospital.

Estrada, who chairs the Senate labor committee, asked resource persons invited to the public hearing on Wednesday if putting up a 50-bed hospital for OFWs would be a better option than accrediting existing medical facilities to cater to migrant workers’ health needs.

The OFW hospital is proposed to be supervised by the Overseas Workers Welfare administration (OWWA) and will initially serve OFWs who have paid their dues and their legal dependents.

It was intended to complement the existing package of services under the Medical Care Program (Philhealth) so as to include preventive, promotive, diagnostic, curative and rehabilitative programs.

“We can’t take for granted the indispensable role played by our modern heroes. Aside from their skills and experiences, an important capital that they have possessed is their health,” Estrada said in justifying the proposal.

In the course of the discussions, Estrada said having an OFW hospital would no longer be necessary if existing government hospitals would be willing to attend to the health needs of OFWs and their dependents.

The proposed hospital, he said, could be built using funds from OFWs’ contributions through OWWA. “We can even establish the hospital in the compound of the Veterans Medical Memorial Center,” Estrada said.

“I know the place very well, having stayed there for two years,” he jested, referring to his detention there in 2001 until he was allowed to post bail in 2003 as a co-accused of his father in a plunder case.

For her part, Sen. Pia Cayetano, who chairs the health and demography committee, said the proposed hospital could serve as a “processing center” to check on health needs of OFWs for referral to other Philhealth-accredited hospitals.

But Cayetano said she has strong reservations against putting up a new hospital for OFWs, considering that most OFWs are not based in Manila where the medical facility is proposed to be built.

Rhodora Abaro of the Center for Migrant Advocacy said about 50 percent of OFWs and their relatives come from Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon), the National Capital Region (Metro Manila), and Central Luzon, while the rest are spread in the Visayas and Mindanao.

She suggested that the intended beneficiaries be properly consulted on the proposal, noting that it would be their money that would be used to build and operate the facility.

“It’s the OFWs’ money, they should be consulted about it,” Abaro said in an interview with GMANews.TV.

While the benefits of the proposed OFW hospital can only be availed of by documented workers, Estrada suggested that undocumented OFWs should also be entitled to its services.

“Like documented OFWS, these undocumented workers also send money to the country,” he said.

Estrada said that he would organize a technical working group to look into the prospect of addressing the needs of undocumented OFWs. – Mark J. Ubalde, GMANews.TV

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02/27/2008 | 11:10 PM

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