LOS ANGELES– Dominador Arciaga was a bright-eyed 27-year old accountant when he moved from the Philippines to America in the late sixties. He then turned out to be one of those hardworking Filipino expatriates who flourished and prospered in Uncle Sam’s neighborhood.
Together with his wife, Elsa, who was a registered nurse, Arciaga built a modest fortune and lived a good life in Pasadena, an upscale Los Angeles suburbia.
Today, 44 years later, Mang Domeng is not the same confident Filipino-American that he used to be. So much has changed; he is now a retiree, and a widower living alone with only his dog, Boyeng, as companion. His only son now has a family of his own and lives up north in Seattle.
Like other Filipino expats, Mang Domeng wants to spend the rest of his golden years in his hometown in Northern Samar, to “find more meaning to life and living.” But the last time he went home Mang Doming suffered a heart illness that required a delicate and expensive surgical procedure. He spent almost a quarter of a million pesos, a needless expense that could have been covered by his health insurance had the medical procedure been done in Los Angeles.
Mang Domeng’s predicament is not an isolated case. With Filipino Baby Boomers in the US thinking retirement, the issue of “medicare portability” is understandably a hot-button topic in community forums and discussions.
During a community hall meeting held Wednesday at the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles, Filipino-American community leaders and other civic and advocacy groups kicked off a signature drive, hoping this will create enough traction to sway CaliforniaSenators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein to sponsor a Medicare Portability Bill in the U.S. Congress.
Medicare portability is a situation that would allow Fil-Am retirees to avail of the U.S. Medicare benefits when they need hospitalization and medical care in the Philippines.
Eric Lachica, founding member-organizer of the U.S. Medicare PH, Inc. based in McLean, Virginia, told a highly engaged crowd at the Rizal Hall of the Philippine Consulate in this city that while the Filipino-American professionals can take their Social Security pensions anywhere in the world, the same cannot be said about their Medicare benefits.
“Our Filipino-American immigrant professionals are retiring at the rate of 100 per day. They are part of the daily “tsunami” of 10,000 baby boomers who reach 65,” said Lachica. “Under the law, they can take their SS pensions anywhere in the world, but the law does not provide Medicare overseas.”
Lachica, who was instrumental in the successful lobby for the Filvets benefits in Washington, noted that with the decades of work, they (Fil-Am immigrant workers) they have paid into Medicare. It is just fair, he said, that they now deserve portability.
Lachica pointed out a couple precedents to Medicare portability, saying that U.S. citizens of Guam are allowed (by Medicare) to obtain critical medical care in select hospitals in the Philippines.
“U.S. citizens of Guam, because of proximity, are allowed to obtain critical medical treatments in Philippine hospitals that meet international standards and the cost of the medical procedures are reimbursed by Medicare,” said Lachica. “Also, thousands of U.S. military retirees in the Philippines have their medical concerns covered by Tricare.”
Lachica also cited that Medicare Portability plan for Fil-Am retirees is cost effective. That with the current budget squeeze “that we face as Americans,” the proposed program translates to $500,000,000 or half a billion savings for the U.S. government.
“Based on the Medical Trustees 2010 report, the annual cost per beneficiary is $11,743. We estimate that taxpayers will save at least $5,000 per year for each Filipino-American senior who chooses to retire in the country of his birth and avail of the health care there,” Lachica said. “With this estimate, if 100,000 retirees choose to reside in the Philippines, the savings is tantamount to $500,000,000.”