Mon, Jan 13, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ignore bizarre opposition demands

On Friday the opposition in the Legislative Yuan managed to push through a motion calling for the cancellation of increases in the National Health Insurance fees imposed last September. Should the Cabinet not accede to the legislature's wish in this regard, it has been threatened with a vote of no confidence. Frankly it is hard to imagine a stranger topic on which to seek a showdown, or a stranger logic behind the opposition's actions.

The background to this is worth telling. In 1995 Lien Chan (連戰), then premier, now chairman of the KMT and failed presidential wannabe, drew up the Universal Health Insurance Plan. Unlike Lien's other brainchild, the farcically overhyped Asia-Pacific Regional Operations Center plan, the health insurance plan was actually carried out. Indeed, when Lien's lackluster record as an administrator has been cited in the past as a reason for him not to pursue the presidency, Lien has often used the success of the health insurance plan as the centerpiece of his defense.

The weakness of the National Health Insurance plan as it was implemented was that it was underfinanced. Actually it was a typical example of the kind of social welfare legislation that was popular in the mid-1990s in which great promises were made without any serious consideration of the financing needed to pay for them. As a result the National Health Insurance Bureau started off pretty much broke and has been struggling to stay afloat ever since. One can only assume that the opposition now thinks that what one of its leaders put together, it has the right to smash to pieces.

Then again, one has to query the figures. The Department of Health wants to raise National Health Insurance contributions by an average of NT$40 per contributor per month. The opposition says that in these financially strapped times this puts an intolerable burden on the lower paid. According to Legislator Sisy Chen (陳文茜), 300,000 people will no longer be able to keep up their contributions. One's immediate reaction is "come off it!" NT$40 buys two colas, a pint of orange juice or a packet of cigarettes. It is one quarter of one percent of the minimum wage, which hardly anybody on the island bar the luckless overseas contract workers actually earns. To call this an intolerable burden is risible. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that this small increase in premiums is going to be anything like enough to bail out the deeply indebted national health system. In fairness the DOH doesn't say that it will, only that it will keep the Bureau of National Health Insurance afloat for another two years when, we assume, another rate hike will be necessary.

But this does not begin to touch on the bizarreness of the current row. The law that established the National Health Insurance program allows the Cabinet to adjust fees up to 6 percent of people's income. Since the current adjustment from 4.25 to 4.55 percent comes within that framework, it is clear that the DOH may do as it pleases. The legislature is asserting that its recommendation has the status of a law. Utter rubbish! The only recourse it has to prevent the health insurance hikes is to amend the original law, something it has no intention of doing.

The opposition is threatening the Cabinet with a vote of no confidence if it does not quash the rate hikes. That there could be a constitutional challenge over this issue seems ludicrous. What the government must not do is to ask the legislature to reconsider its motion -- one of the options mooted. That would be tantamount to saying the legislature had the right to make this absurd demand. The best answer to the lawmakers' arrogant disregard for the Constitution they are supposed to serve is a simple Bronx cheer.

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