Fil-Am groups push for Medicare portability

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LOS ANGELES – A group of Filipino-American health advocates continue to push for US Medicare portability, for Fil-Am retirees who want to live in the Philippines and bring their benefits with them.

In February, US Medicare PH and US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) visited the Philippines, where they renewed partnerships and alliances with health officials and local accredited hospitals like The Medical City (TMC) and the Makati Medical Center.

“There’s going to be a tsunami of retirees in the next couple of years,” said Eric Lachica, Interim Organizer and Incorporator for US Medicare PH.

“Our goal this year is to promote and expand the current policy of temporary ‘emergency/urgent care’ coverage in the Philippines under the Medicare Advantage or part C plans of major US health insurance companies.”

Lachica said their plan is to “encourage [health] insurance companies to directly reimburse, to guarantee payments and to partner with TMC and other JCI health institutions’ for eligible Medicare patients visiting there.”

Lachica and about 50 Fil-Ams from the US Medicare PH and USP4GG recently arrived from the Philippines, where they participated in the Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora this past February.

One of the big topics during the summit was Medicare portability — a hot issue among Americans (especially Fil-Ams), who plan and hope to retire in the Philippines one day.

Currently, Medicare prohibits coverage for Americans residing, retiring or traveling outside of the US. And the cost per beneficiary over the years has risen –significantly doubling, from an average of $6,000 in 2005 to $12,000 per beneficiary in 2010.

Many proponents of Medicare portability believe this is unfair.

“The nearly half-million retired Americans living overseas and the millions more who travel extensively abroad must either go without care until they return to the United States or pay out-of-pocket for the care they need,” wrote Matthew J. Downs, founder and president of the Center for Medicare Portability, based in Washington, D.C.

“We see this as a fundamentally unfair situation for retired Americans who have paid into Medicare their entire working lives. This restriction on Medicare coverage is also unfair to American taxpayers because it ignores the potentially huge cost savings to Medicare offered by lower-cost healthcare options abroad,” added Downs.

Lachica said many Fil-Ams, who are also part of the baby boom generation and those who immigrated during the 1960s, and 1970s, have contributed to the US Medicare system for decades but if they plan to retire and live outside of the US, they stand to lose the money they’ve put in.

“They deserve portability of benefits at internationally accredited hospitals and health care providers in the country of their birth,” he said, adding retirees could receive topnotch health services in the Philippines, at a fraction of a cost compared to the US.

“We estimate that taxpayers will save at least $5,000 per year for each Filipino-American senior who chooses to return to their country of birth and avail of quality health care there,” he added.

Lachica and other officials said they plan to work with Senate and congressional leaders in the US for a solution to the problem.

Lachica said that over 100 Fil-Ams retire a day and most are hoping to go back home and enjoy their golden years, but not if they have to pay an exorbitant amount for medical care.

“Right now, we want to promote medical tourism and push for Medicare portability when we have the confidence of stakeholders here in the US,” he said.

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