‘Medicare portability’ for Fil-Ams | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

‘Medicare portability’ for Fil-Ams

/ 10:24 PM February 22, 2012

It is supposed to be a win-win situation, with both the United States and the Philippine governments benefiting from it, but most of all, the Filipino-American Medicare beneficiaries who have contributed heard-earned money.

Many Fil-Am retirees, medical professionals and advocates in the US have joined the “US Medicare in the Philippines Campaign” to convince the US Congress and President Barack Obama to allow Medicare coverage in the Philippines. They are lobbying for the passage of the US Medicare Portability bill. Their campaign cry: “Bring Medicare Home! You earned it!”


If during your entire career you had contributed to a government health insurance fund and upon retirement you want to avail of medical care, wouldn’t you want to choose where to go? The land of their birth is the first choice of many Fil-Ams.

According to proponents of the Medicare Portability bill, Fil-Am immigrant professionals are retiring at the rate of 100 per day. They are part of the daily “tsunami” of 10,000 baby boomers who are reaching 65 years of age. Under US law, they can take their Social Security pensions anywhere in the world, but their Medicare coverage, unlike private medical insurance coverage, cannot be applied abroad, not even to their homeland where they are also citizens.


There is a tinge of hurt when they say, “Hundreds of thousands of Filipino doctors, nurses, medical professionals, teachers and workers immigrated in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s upon the invitation of US medical and educational institutions and businesses to fulfill the needs of the American people. With decades of work they have paid into Medicare, they deserve portability of benefits at internationally accredited hospitals and care providers in the country of their birth.”

This will not be a drain on the US budget, they argue, but will in fact be a part of the solution to the worsening budget crisis. Here’s how: “The current annual cost per beneficiary is US$11,743. We estimate that taxpayers will save at least US$5,000 per year for each Filipino-American senior who chooses to return to his/her country of birth and avail of quality health care there.

“With this estimate of cost savings, if 200,000 retirees choose to reside in the Philippines, the Medicare savings would be US$1 billion per year. This dramatic savings could help meet our US government’s investments in job creation, education, infrastructure and small businesses, or reduce the budget deficit.” Health care in the Philippines is comparably cheaper.

The goal in 2010 is a change in the US law that would allow—for a start—for three demonstration hospitals in the Philippines that meet international standards to be reimbursed after Medicare beneficiaries are treated there.

This is far from saying that medical care in the US is inferior. Many wealthy Filipinos with health problems go to the US for treatment. What is clearly unsaid—and this makes me smile—is that many Fil-Am retirees feel and think they would live happier, healthier and longer lives in “Philippines, my Philippines.” The Department of Tourism’s “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign and its medical tourism program should get a boost from this.

Three days ago I spoke with Eric Lachica, a prominent Fil-Am registered lobbyist and organizer of US Medicare Philippines (www.USMedicarePH.org), a non-profit advocacy group based in Washington DC.  Lachica spent years helping Fil-Ams get their due. A political science graduate of the University of Southern California and a son of a Fil-Am World War II veteran, Lachica worked 17 years for the passage of the Fil-Am Veterans Equity Bill that resulted in the 2010 release of $300 million for Fil-Am vets and their families.

The Medicare Portability bill lobbyist has been meeting with government officials in the US and the Philippines, President Aquino among them. Last November Lachica was invited to the Veterans Day Breakfast with President Obama at the White House.


According to Lachica the campaign has been making progress with P-Noy and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario. He said that last January the President announced that he will discuss the issue with President Obama in their June meeting.

Philippine hospitals that have signed up as partners are The Medical City, Cebu’s Chong Hua Hospital and Cebu Doctors Hopital. There are ongoing negotiations with Ayala Land, St. Luke’s Hospital, Makati Medical Center and Cardinal Santos Hospital.

Last week Lachica was in Guam to meet with Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo who will be introducing a bill for Medicare coverage for in-patient hospital services in the Philippines.

On the Philippine side, we should be ready for this happy “tsunami” of retirees who are expected to experience first-class health care. Filipino caregiving is first-class and personal. Our tertiary hospitals have state-of-the-art facilities and medical experts galore. Unknown to many, foreigners are coming to seek treatment here and also enjoy the sights and sounds.

Hospices, retirement and nursing homes are still few on the Philippine landscape. But I’ve visited one that caters mainly to Japanese retirees and I liked what I saw. There should be more of this kind.

Not all of our nursing graduates can be absorbed abroad.  Not all of them are raring to toil on foreign soil if they can help it. I believe that the Philippines has a lot to offer to fellow Filipinos who have left family, friends and village to seek greener pastures. And who now want to come home to the bosom of the land they love, to bask in its golden sun, to gaze at its blue seas and skies and the verdant hills beyond.

Welcome home.

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