Sat, Jul 05, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Time to shift the blame game

The dispute between the Cabinet and the Legislative Yuan over the increases in National Health Insurance (NHI) premiums and co-payment fees has dragged on forever. The Control Yuan on Wednesday issued an official correction of the Cabinet's "procedural flaws" -- the government implementing the rate hikes without informing the legislature.

In this highly politicized nation, many things are legally correct but politically incorrect, such as the legislature and Control Yuan's demand that the Cabinet report the controversial fee increases to the legislature. Then again, many things are politically correct but legally incorrect, such as the Cabinet's refusal to report the hikes to lawmakers. Although the three branches all speak eloquently, as if they were solely in the right, they are in fact acting out of political and electoral considerations.

The National Health Insurance Law (全民健康保險法) clearly states that changes to insurance fees have to be carefully calculated by a group of experts and ratified by the Cabinet. When passing the law, the KMT government specifically authorized the Cabinet to review insurance fees in order to avoid a boycott against premium hikes by the DPP, then in opposi-tion. This was a KMT trick to avoid legislative supervision. Nevertheless, every dog has its day, and now the positions are reversed. By demanding that the Cabinet report the NHI-rate hike to the legislature for its reference, the blue camp does not really want to complete the legal proceedings -- it just wants overturn the bill to curry favor with voters.

The Cabinet knows what the blue camp wants, so it will not forward the rate hike to the legislature. After all, the Cabinet notes that it didn't forward the question of raising water and electricity fees or interest rates to the legislature. This is a bit far-fetched, however, because any legislative bill affecting the rights and duties of the people must receive legislative approval. This is a fundamental principle of parliamentary politics. The legislature also asked the Cabinet to investigate and set health insurance fees -- so shouldn't the results then be reported back to the legislature?

NHI fees were unchanged for eight years. A shortage of NHI subsidies to local governments has led to serious financial pressure on the national health-insurance system. The increase, less than 6 percent, is a reasonable measure to avoid having the insurance system go broke.

To avoid an expansion of the conflict, however, the Cabinet should resolve the issue as soon as possible. It should submit the issue to the legislature during the next legislative session, or ask the Council of Grand Justices to deliver a constitutional interpretation. The longer the debate drags on, the more complicated and difficult it will become to resolve, giving the opposition more reason to protest.

If a bill authorizing the 6 percent rate hike is submitted to the legislature, the lawmakers will have to follow legal procedures and can only choose between accepting or returning the bill. Unless the legislature first revokes the Cabinet's right to review NHI fees by amending the National Health Care Insurance Law, it cannot change the contents of a fee-hike bill.

The government and opposition stray far too easily from normal legal proceedings for the sake of expediency. Everyone can see what the correct legal action should be in this case -- everyone that is, except for the politicians and officials involved. They have grown too used to running roughshod over the legal system for quick political gains. No wonder the country is in such a mess.

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