Press Release
April 30, 2020

Hontiveros bats for mandatory life and add'l health insurance for all workers during health emergencies

"'New normal' means better working conditions, full coverage and protection for workers."

This was the statement of Senator Risa Hontiveros on the eve of Labor Day as she pushed for mandatory life and additional health insurance for private and public sector workers to protect their health and well-being during health emergencies like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

"Workers, especially the working poor, are disproportionately affected by this pandemic," said Hontiveros upon filing Senate Bill No. 1441, otherwise known as the "Balik Trabahong Ligtas Act" which seeks to provide health coverage under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to all workers, including contractual, contract of service, probationary, and job order employees, who are asked to report to work outside of their homes during a health emergency.

The bill comes as government is set to allow the return to work of employees in qualified industries like agriculture, retail, telecommunications, and media in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) starting May 1.

"This bill aims to protect workers who, by going to work everyday, render themselves vulnerable to infectious diseases and other hazards, and put their families and loved ones at risk. Nobody must be forced to choose between dying from an infectious disease or dying from hunger," Hontiveros said.

Under the measure, Hontiveros said, the mandatory PhilHealth coverage will entitle workers to full payment of medical bills in case a worker falls ill due to an "infectious disease subject of the declaration of public health emergency." The insurance coverage will also provide a minimum of P1,000,000 benefit to the worker's designated beneficiary, if the said worker dies from the infectious disease.

The bill also provide workers with a "flexible sick leave" which will be available to employees who will contract the infectious disease during the health emergency. Hontiveros said that the "flexible sick leave" can be availed of by employees even if they have used up their sick leave already, and will not be deducted from their existing 15-day statutory sick leave credits.

Hontiveros said that for purposes of claiming the above benefits, workers who will get infected "are presumed to have been infected in the course of his or her work for the employer."

The bill mandates that the premiums for the mandatory PhilHealth coverage of workers will be shouldered by employers, except for frontline health workers whose premiums will be paid for by government.

However, Hontiveros noted that micro and small enterprises will be allowed to apply for reduced premium rates.

The senator added that under the bill, employers who will require their workers to work outside of their homes must provide personal protective equipment (PPE), based on the "nature of the job, and the level of exposure to risks."

"It is important that we set these safeguards in place as we transition out of a full lockdown into the "new normal," and as we strive to balance the requirements of public health and the needs of the economy and the labor force," she said.

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