By Bjorn Biel M. BeltranSpecial Features Writer

Health is wealth. It is a saying that is popular with many Filipino households, whether rich or poor. Given the Filipinos’ inherent nature to value personal relationships and family over things like material wealth, it makes sense that many believe that a healthy life is a happy life. But perhaps the saying also serves as a warning. Because for many Filipinos, losing one’s health is akin to losing control over one’s life.

“We know for a fact that at any time an ordinary hardworking employee who’s working for his family gets sick of dengue, a three- to five-day confinement may deplete the financial resources of the whole family, which may possibly cause them to skip meals, or possibly cause the temporary stopping of a child from going to school,” Franz Joie Araque, senior vice-president and chief of the Healthcare Division of Cocolife, told BusinessWorld in an interview.

He said that to prevent this from ever happening is why Cocolife, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, established its health care division in the first place. As many Filipinos struggle to cope with the financial burden of medical care, Cocolife saw an opportunity to provide health insurance to complement its developing lineup of accident and life insurance programs.

“We facilitate the services in between the patient and their service providers which are the hospitals, doctors, and clinics. Primarily to ensure that there is efficient process to that health care access, and that, more importantly, we alleviate the burden of cashing out. We provide the financial support for these medical services, particularly in times where there have been an unexpected occurrence of emergency and accidents,” Mr. Araque said.

Franz Joie Araque, senior vice-president and chief of the Healthcare Division, Cocolife

Starting out in August 1999, the company’s health care division slowly gathered momentum and developing the framework for its business. Since then, Mr. Araque said that Cocolife has grown its health insurance premiums by around 1000%, its human resource by around 500%, and its client base by around 10 times. This roughly translates to around 1000 corporate clients, with an estimated 450,000 individual members, making it among the biggest health insurance providers in the country.

Health care insurance premiums by the company amounted to around P2.5 billion in 2017, contributing a significant portion of Cocolife’s overall premium income of P6.6 billion in the same year.

Cocolife has the unique position as one of the biggest Filipino-owned stock life insurance companies, offering a complete array of life insurance, non-life insurance, health care, and mutual fund products through its various business units and subsidiaries in the non-life business (UCPB General Insurance), pre-need (Cocoplans) and mutual funds (Cocolife Asset Management Co., Inc.).

Throughout its history, that position — and the sizeable pool of resources made available because of it — has granted Cocolife the edge over its competitors in the health insurance sector.

“There are only a few service providers of medical insurance and HMOs coming from the life insurance sector. There’s only a handful, maybe about less than 10 companies. And the uniqueness of that is that Cocolife is the biggest service provider of health insurance who is classified as a life insurance company,” Mr. Araque said.

“So that simply means that our commitments to our consumers buying health care protection are supported by the entire resources of the life insurance organization, over P27 billion of resources,” he added.

To build on that advantage, Cocolife recently restructured its organization with a new leadership focused on having a fresh perspective on how to approach business in the digital era. As the landscape of Philippine business shifts towards a workplace dominated by tech-savvy, time-poor millennials, the company is looking towards adapting more efficient, more accessible, and more convenient services for its clients.

“Back in the day, you know, maybe about two decades ago, medical services is a seller’s market, which means that medical service providers can impose a time when they are available to provide the service. It completely changed in the two decades after. Consumers, the patients, cannot wait for so long,” Mr. Araque said.

“Life is very fast-paced for millennials and so we as a business would need to adapt to that. And that also has created a substantial change in the expectations of our customers,” he said.

Cocolife’s new plan involves improving the company’s brand presence, promising 24/7 accessibility for its customer support and call center services, as well as through the establishment of more contact points around the country to expand its reach. Cocolife currently works with almost 700 accredited hospitals, around 1,100 accredited clinics, and over 24,500 accredited doctors.

“What we provide is a promise. There is no tangible material that is given to the consumer when they buy our product, but rather a promise that in their time of need, we will pay for their hospitalization,” Mr. Araque said.

“The primary objective is to reach out to more Filipinos and encourage protection against risk, not only on unforeseen loss of life nor accident, but also on health, to ensure that they are more capable of bringing up a better, younger generation of Filipinos in the future. We are also very optimistic that with the new leadership of former Supreme Court Justice Bienvenido Reyes as chairman and Georgetown-educated lawyer Martin Loon as president, Cocolife will reach greater heights,” he said.