Background: As the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) gears toward full regional integration by 2015, the cross-border mobility of workers and citizens at large is expected to further intensify in the coming years. While ASEAN member countries have already signed the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, the health rights of migrants still need to be addressed, especially with ongoing universal health coverage (UHC) reforms in most ASEAN countries. This paper seeks to examine the inclusion of migrants in the UHC systems of five ASEAN countries which exhibit diverse migration profiles and are currently undergoing varying stages of UHC development.
Design: A scoping review of current migration trends and policies as well as ongoing UHC developments and migrant inclusion in UHC in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand was conducted.
Results: In general, all five countries, whether receiving or sending, have schemes that cover migrants to varying extents. Thailand even allows undocumented migrants to opt into its Compulsory Migrant Health Insurance scheme, while Malaysia and Singapore are still yet to consider including migrants in their government-run UHC systems. In terms of predominantly sending countries, the Philippines's social health insurance provides outbound migrants with portable insurance yet with limited benefits, while Indonesia still needs to strengthen the implementation of its compulsory migrant insurance which has a health insurance component. Overall, the five ASEAN countries continue to face implementation challenges, and will need to improve on their UHC design in order to ensure genuine inclusion of migrants, including undocumented migrants. However, such reforms will require strong political decisions from agencies outside the health sector that govern migration and labor policies. Furthermore, countries must engage in multilateral and bilateral dialogue as they redefine UHC beyond the basis of citizenship and reimagine UHC systems that transcend national borders.
Conclusions: By enhancing migrant coverage, ASEAN countries can make UHC systems truly 'universal'. Migrant inclusion in UHC is a human rights imperative, and it is in ASEAN's best interest to protect the health of migrants as it pursues the path toward collective social progress and regional economic prosperity.
Keywords: ASEAN; Southeast Asia; health financing; migrant health; migrant workers; universal health coverage.