Image Source: w3ins.com
Image Source: w3ins.com
[box type=”default” size=”large”] Lack of medical insurance coverage is his No. 1 problem [/box]

LAS VEGAS -– After 30 years, Ely Barros thought it was time to end the chase for his American Dream and go back home.

The kids are grown up, and a failed marriage is just a painful memory, and there is no sense staying in the United States anymore.

The town of his birth with its swaying palm trees, white beaches, blue-green waters and golden sunsets, invitingly beckon. And finally, a luxurious, if not peaceful, retirement is possible.

A new love who’s a lovely woman, a townmate, by his side makes the prospect of going home ever more tempting. Home is Borongan, Easter Samar, a town by the Pacific Ocean that miraculously escaped the wrath of super typhoon Yolanda.

There is just one serious catch: In January, after 11 years, his transplanted kidney gave way. He has to go on dialysis again.

Without private insurance and simply relying on Medicare, going back home and getting the treatment in the Philippines is an iffy and potentially expensive proposition.

Barros is one of thousands of Filipino-Americans, estimates say as many as 200,000, who are planning to retire in the Philippines but are prevented from doing so mainly by the lack of medical coverage.

A proposal is under way to extend Medicare coverage to the Philippines, and several topnotch hospitals there are willing to provide medical services.

“This would be a tremendous help,” Barros says. “It would finally fulfill my dream of going back home for good.”

But after more than three years, the quest for a portable Medicare, which started with the formation of the U.S. Medicare Philippines (www.usmedicareph.org), still has a long road ahead.

Medicare is a federal program that provides medical coverage to U.S. citizens 65 and older. It also extends coverage to younger people with Lou Gehrig’s disease, permanent disabilities and end-stage renal health complications.

A proposal is under way to extend Medicare coverage to the Philippines.

A drug-prescription benefit was added to hospital and doctors’ services coverage during the George W. Bush presidency.

In addition, Part C or Medicare Advantage that provides both basic and extra healthcare services are offered by private health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

Also there are Medigap plans to supplement what original Medicare does not cover. Private insurance companies offer them.

However, coverage outside the United States is not allowed unless in an emergency situation and an American hospital is not available.

The lobbying effort for a portable Medicare is centered on the premise that it’s a win-win situation. Allowing retirees to bring their Medicare benefit to the land of their birth will save the U.S. tons of money.

“The average cost per beneficiary was $11,743 per year in 2010,” says Eric Lachica, a co-founder of U.S. Medicare Philippines. “A savings of at least $5,000 per beneficiary is achievable if spent in the Philippines.”

If 200,000, a conservative estimate because at least 100 of the four million Filipino-Americans in the U.S. retire every day, chose to return to the Philippines, it would result in $1 billion savings to Medicare every year.

This relieves pressure on Medicare, which is expected to go bankrupt in 12 years, according to studies, Lachica says.

A couple of precedents give Lachica and his group hope that eventually the U.S. Congress will pass a law that allows Medicare portability.

In 2010, Saipan and Guam were allowed critical medical treatment in Philippine hospitals that meet Joint Commission International standards. 

Patient expenses were reimbursed by Medicare or by private insurance plans. Tricare, the Department of Veterans Affair’s health plan, reimburses U.S. military retirees who live in the Philippines for their medical expenses in certain designated hospitals.

Lachica’s group has built a partnership with several hospitals, doctors groups and nurses associations, aside from community groups, to help in the lobbying to advance the Medicare portability efforts.

On Jan. 16, 2014, it launched its 2014 campaign at the Nurses Global summit at Manila Hotel.

Attended by more than 300 nurses and supporters, the gathering was graced by Nurses Association of America (PNAA) President Victoria Navarro, Secretary Imelda Nicolas of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), Secretary Enrique Ona of the Department Health and General Manager Vernie Atienza of the Philippine Retirement Authority.

“We appealed to the nurse leaders and our partners to renew their commitment to the cause of Medicare Portability for thousands of returning elderly Filipino Americans by ensuring high quality health standards and by keeping low medical costs in the homeland,” Lachica says.

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

(Editor’s Note: Bert B. Eljera, the writer of this article, is a journalist for more than 25 years. He has extensively covered the Asian Pacific American community in California, Florida and Nevada. Before he immigrated to the US, he was a sports writer of the Manila Bulletin. He now resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.)