Edited and updated, 14 October 2012
A lot gets said, good and bad about health care here in the Philippines. For me, I’m in pretty good hands because I have full coverage under a plan from the US DoD called TRICARE … this will reimburse 75% of my bills after I meet a yearly threshold of $150USD. In my first year I came nowhere near meeting that threshold, but if the US dollar continues its downward spiral … or I get sick … who knows?
The Philippine government has gone a long way toward providing universal health care .. for all citizens, not just the elderly or the terminally poor/permanently disabled like Medicare/Medicaid does in the US. For 12 years now they have had a program called PhilHealth which provides coverage in some form or another for every Filipino as well as their dependents. The amounts that PhilHealth pays for doctors and hospital visits may look small in the terms of foreign prices … but the actual cost of medical care here is much less than you might think … and to those with virtually no income, PhilHealth is a true blessing. A basic run-down of PhilHealth benefits is here:
PhilHealth comes in three main “flavors”: those employed by Filipino companies as regular employees, the individual Filipino who is self-employed or unemployed and those of retirement age.
For the regular employee category, employers typically enroll the employees and pay the modest premiums. This is in addition to any other private medical insurance they might chose to offer. Folks who are over 65 get Philhealth for free, whether they are drawing a retirement pension or not. That leaves the folks with no regular job with benefits to contribute to PhilHealth on their own. The monthly contribution for self or self and family (spouse and all children under 21) is 100 Philippine Pesos per month … about $2.32 USD at today’s rate. Not a staggering sum. But difficult for many Filipinos to pay if they don’t have regular work. Thus the subject of today’s trip.
Maria (not her real name) is a lady who has done household work for my wife’s family and for my wife and I for years. She’s a pleasant, very hard-working person in her late 30’s/early 40’s with about 7 children and another on the way. One reason Maria never gets very far ahead in life is that one or the other of the children is always getting sick. Months ago I asked why she didn’t have PhilHealth to defray at least some of these medical costs. I offered to pay the modest bill in addition to her day work earnings. The answer, which even my wife who speaks very good English couldn’t really translate very clearly was that “people like Maria” can’t get PhilHealth. Wow, that shocked me. I immediately thought some sort of conspiracy or crooked scheme … all my typical worst case US images began to form … but over the last few weeks it became apparent what was really being said … the lady, who can hardly read or write just had no idea that she was as good as any other citizen and had the right to join the health plan. I convinced her to at least gather up the birth certificates of her children, just in case. because I’m the boss and because she likes me, she finally showed up with an envelope full of tattered forms … more to humor me than for any other reason I think. I’m sure she “knew” it wouldn’t work.
Today my wife and I made some calls, found the closest office and drove over there with Maria. A one page form, a trip next door to make copies of all the documents at a few pesos each, a 600 Peso payment or the first half-year’s premium and Maria and all her kids are now enrolled.
The people at the office couldn’t have been more helpful … I could have done it myself without any translation help, and all we have to do is dome back in two weeks to pick up Maria’s official ID card. So what was so hard, really? getting a worthy person to realize she is worthy, that’s what. It’s one of the things that a foreigner has to get used to living here. When you see someone in dire straights, living in a box propped against someone else’s wall, or carrying their baby from house to house begging for some food or medicine you have to et used to the idea that they are likely in that position because they’ve been taught since childhood that is their lot and there’s nothing they can do about it.
I’m not big on charity in the organized commercial sense and I’m not an overly religious or “do-gooder” person by any stretch of the imagination. But perhaps today I made a little difference in a couple lives for the future at the cost of one meal at McDonald’s or a third of a tank of diesel for my car. Do you have someone working for you without the safety net of PhilHealth … or maybe a brother-in-law or a neighbor always living in fear of their child dying because they can’t give the most basic health care?
You don’t have to dig very deep in your pocket, or lobby for a new law or start an international charity … just drive them to PhilHealth and show them where to sign on the form. It’s a risk, like every other investment, but it’s a pretty small risk that can pay off big … maybe even after you’re long gone.
Here’s the one page form for the enrolment, doesn’t seem to be on-line fillable, but you can print it out and fill up the blanks in the comfort of home before starting off.