Mandatory health insurance for foreign workers

KUALA LUMPUR: THE government is making it compulsory by June 2012 for all employers to buy health insurance protection amounting to RM120 per year for each of their foreign workers.

"So far, the government has seen 1.4 million of insurance policies taken up by foreign workers in the construction and restaurant sectors. Those that have not taken up are domestic helpers and estate workers," said Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) director of healthcare NKEA Dr Chua Hong Teck.

"Those employers who fail to fulfil this requirement will see their foreign workers' permit not renewed by the Immigration Department. This health insurance scheme is an add- on to the health screening requirement by Fomema Sdn Bhd," he told reporters here yesterday.

"Yes, there is no such law to enforce the mandatory element. It is done administratively by the Immigration Department," the Pemandu director said after delivering his presentation at a seminar organised by the Malaysian Institute of Management. 

Dr Chua then explained that this scheme provides hospitalisation and medical benefits at government hospitals to foreign workers with coverage of RM10,000 per year for all injuries and sickness. 

A total of 25 insurance companies and two third party claims administrators are participating in this scheme.

"At RM120, it works out to be only RM10 per month. If one can spend RM10 on a packet of cigarettes per month, then it's not much to provide health insurance for his domestic helper, right?," said the senior government official from the Pemandu, a unit of the Prime Minister's Department.

"Bank Negara Malaysia has endorsed this RM120 per year insurance policy as the most value-for-money hospitalisation coverage. Employers who have bought RM50 or RM60 per year policy for their domestic helper is just for personal accident. I'm sure it does not cover hospitalisation. 

"The employer needs to differentiate the various coverage the insurance policies offer," he added.

To a question if employers can deduct the RM120 per year insurance coverage from their domestic helper's salary, Dr Chua replied, "this is between the employer and the domestic helper. Right now, government hospitals are experiencing around RM5 million or RM6 million a year in unpaid medical bills incurred by foreign workers. This is being borne by taxpayers' money. Is this fair to taxpayers like you and me?"

The Health Ministry had since January 2011 wanted to impose this ruling on foreign workers in the plantation sector. It was, however, repeatedly opposed by farmers.

This is because oil palm and rubber plantation firms are already footing the medical bills of their foreign workers under the Workers Minimum Housing Standard & Amenities Act 1990. This law mandates all estate owners to provide healthcare facilities and services for their staff, including foreign workers.

Malaysian Palm Oil Association chief executive officer Datuk Mamat Salleh reportedly said this ruling forces plantation companies to pay a second time what they have already been providing to foreign workers. 

"Injury-related accident cases are already covered by the Workmen Compensation Insurance. Currently, employers are paying RM72 for each foreign worker," Mamat said. "If our estate members were to participate in the medical insurance scheme, we'll be paying an extra RM50 million to insurance companies for the 400,000 foreign workers staying in the estates," he added.

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