House panel approves OFW hospital bill

Overseas Filipino workers may soon have a hospital that will address their health care needs.

The House Committee on Health chaired by Rep. Angelina Tan (4th District, Quezon), in a joint meeting with the House Committee on Appropriations chaired by Rep. Rolando Andaya, Jr. (1st District, Camarines Sur), approved on Monday House Bill 9194 which seeks to establish a hospital to cater to the health needs of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Principally authored by former President and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2nd District, Pampanga), the measure provides for the establishment of a hospital with at least a tertiary level of care to be known as OFW Hospital.

Earlier, the proposal was approved by the panel as a substitute bill to House Bill Nos. 1672, 2187 and 4621 authored by Reps. Strike Revilla (2nd District, Cavite), Florida Robles (Lone District, San Jose Del Monte City) and Maximo Rodriguez, Jr. (2nd District, Cagayan de Oro City), respectively.

In her sponsorship statement, Speaker Arroyo said that her bill came about because of the events of Labor Day last May in which President Duterte in his speech called for a bill for workers.

“Of course we already have the ENDO (bill) which is in the Senate but we felt there should be another appropriate bill that we can file on the occasion of May 1, Labor Day,” the Speaker said.

Speaker Arroyo said that on that day also, they were in Pampanga for the groundbreaking ceremony for the OFW hospital that will be built on the land donated by the Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda to the Department of Health (DOH) and the hospital equipment to be provided by philanthropist Ricky Razon and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).

She said DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III, who was there at the groundbreaking ceremony, together with Department of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, mentioned that while the land and the building are now free, the DOH needs to have operating expenses.

“He said that in order to justify operating expenses to be budgeted every year, we need to have an enabling law providing for an OFW hospital,” Speaker Arroyo said.

The Speaker said she signed one because she was given the impression that the bill on the OFW hospital filed by Rep. Strike Revilla was only for Cavite.

But she found out that subject to some amendments, the proposal of Revilla, which is also a general bill, can be adopted since it is acceptable in principle.

“I thank everybody for saying that my bill should be the primary bill. I don’t want to do that. If Strike Revilla’s bill is acceptable in principle subject to certain amendments that the agencies felt should be put in, then go ahead. So I would like to identify myself with the bill of Congressman Strike Revilla,” Speaker Arroyo said.

The bill provides that the OFW Hospital referred to as the Hospital shall be developed consistent with the health care needs of the OFW and their dependents.

It shall be under the full administrative and technical supervision of the DOH.

One objective of the OFW Hospital is to provide comprehensive health care services to all migrant workers who are Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) contributors and their legal dependents.

It aims to conduct medical examinations to ensure the physical and mental capability of would-be overseas contract workers duly covered by an approved job order.

The Hospital shall also serve as primary referral hospital for repatriated OFWs needing medical assistance and support.

It intends to set up systems that will effectively monitor condition of patients and to generate relevant health information and data for policy formulation.

In addition, the Hospital is expected to participate in the health care provider networks and arrangements relative to the implementation of Republic Act (RA) No. 11223, or the Universal Health Care Act.

The bill mandates the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) – OWWA to strengthen its existing health benefits and medical assistance programs to provide subsidies to the Hospital for qualified OFW and legal dependent patients.

It tasks the DOH to promulgate implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to carry out the provisions of the Act upon consultation with OWWA and other stakeholders, and shall be implemented consistent with the Hospital’s development plan.

The measure mandates the Secretary of Health to include in the DOH’s programs the implementation of the Act, the funding of which shall be included in the annual General Appropriations Act. The OWWA shall also include in their benefits and medical assistance programs for OFW the line item budget necessary to improve the access of OFW and dependents to healthcare services.

As provided, all donations, contribution or endowments which may be made by persons or entities to the Hospital, and the importation of medical equipment and machineries, spare parts and other medical equipment used solely and exclusively for the Hospital shall be exempt from income, gift, direct and indirect taxes, wharfage fees and other charges and restrictions.

Other authors of the bill include Rep. Angelina Tan and other committee members who were present in the meeting

Rep. Ma. Theresa Collantes (3rd District, Batangas) presided over the meeting for the Committee on Health while Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora (1st District, Compostela Valley) presided for the Committee on Appropriations,

Members who attended the meeting were Reps. Suharto Mangungudatu (1st District, Sultan Kudarat), Pablo Ortega (1st District, La Union), Micaela Violago (2nd District, Nueva Ecija), Mark Go (Lone District, Baguio City), Deogracias Victor Savellano (1st District, Ilocos Sur), Manuel Zubiri (3rd District, Bukidnon), Ma. Lourdes Aggabao (4th District, Isabela), Milagros Magsaysay-Aquino (Party-list, Senior Citizens), Leopoldo Bataoil (2nd District, Pangasinan) and Tricia Nicole Velasco-Catera (Party-list, MATA).

Officials of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), DOLE, DOH, OWWA, PHIL POEA and other government agencies lauded the noble intent of the bill and expressed support for it. /Ma. Victoria Palomar / News and Documentation Section-Press and Public Affairs Bureau/ House of Representatives of the Philippines