US Medicare benefits in PHL
US Medicare benefits in PHL

A bill that would allow all Guam Medicare beneficiaries to use their health-care benefits in the Philippines is in the works.

The bill — still being drafted — is part of a larger effort by an advocacy group to allow Filipino-Americans access to US Medicare in the Philippines.

The bill is expected to be introduced by Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo and other Congress members this month, said Eric Lachica, organizer of the advocacy group called US Medicare PH Inc.

Hospitals and clinics in the Philippines don’t currently accept US Medicare, although there is an exception for Guam, said Lachica, a longtime advocate for Filipino-Americans and a registered lobbyist in the US Congress.

However, the Guam rules allow Medicare to reimburse only the patient, Lachica said. The new bill would have Medicare make direct payments to accredited Philippine hospitals for eligible beneficiaries.

Guam is a crucial part of the plan because Guam physicians would make the referrals to the Philippine hospitals, he said.

“Guam is a border state,” Lachica said. The island is close enough to the Philippines that people living in the mainland can drop by for referrals on the way to the Philippines or retirees already living in the country can hop to Guam for a short visit.

Lachica estimated that the US government would save at least $1 billion a year if the plan is adopted primarily because health-care costs in the Philippines are much lower.

His calculations are based on the estimate that about half of the 400,000 Filipino-American seniors in the US are seriously considering retiring in the Philippines.

Seniors seeking benefits in the Philippines would save $5,000 a year in  health-care costs on the average, he said. “We’re in a global economy,” Lachica said. “We have to find comparative advantages with our neighbors.”

The proposed health-care bill isn’t the only advocacy effort Lachica is involved in. The son of a Filipino-American World War II veteran, he has been lobbying on behalf of Filipino-American veterans since 1995. He’s the volunteer executive director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, and has helped push veterans legislation through Congress.

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Not everyone, though, is on board with the new bill. “Exporting US health-care dollars is going the wrong route,” Guam Medical Association president Dr. Thomas Shieh stated in a letter to Bordallo.

There are serious concerns to be addressed, such as the inability of the Office of the Attorney General to prosecute Medicare fraud in another country and the impacts on Guam Memorial Hospital, he said. (Pacific Daily News)