Fri, Jan 14, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ma should act like an adult

The Taipei High Administrative Court yesterday ruled that the Taipei City Government must pay overdue insurance premiums amounting to NT$10.8 billion (US$339 million) to the National Health Insurance Bureau (NHIB), as well as NT$16 billion to the Labor Insurance Bureau. While the court's ruling is hardly surprising, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has already indicated that he does not rule out the possibility of an appeal. In view of Ma's reaction and the city's handling of the dispute, one cannot help but wonder if the city government is perhaps more interested in putting off problems until Ma finishes his second term, after which the hot potato will fall into the lap of his successor -- rather than solving problems from the roots.

Taipei City's is most certainly not the only local government that owes insurance subsidies to the NHIB -- almost all local governments have the same problem. However, the Taipei City Government is the only one that persists in its confrontational and challenging posture by taking a series of legal actions against the NHIB. At the core of the dispute between the city and the NHIB is the question whether the insurance subsidies payable by local governments should be based on the place of residence of the insured person, or that of his or her employer. The calculations are currently based on the employer's address. Obviously this is unfavorable to Taipei, since many insured individuals work in the city but have their official registered residence elsewhere.

Before yesterday's ruling, City Hall had first requested a constitutional interpretation by the Council of Grand Justices. However, the council declined to enter a ruling and suggested that the city take the case to the Administrative Court. The Taipei High Administrative Court subsequently rejected Taipei City's lawsuit to change the subsidy system in May last year. On appeal, the Administrative Supreme Court ruled in July that the case should be returned to the High Administrative Court.

After a trial that lasted around six months, the High Administrative Court yesterday again ruled against the city government.

Although the Kaohsiung City Government faced the same dilemma, it followed an entirely different path. Instead of playing for time by filing endless lawsuits, Kaohsiung has worked out a plan with the NHIB to pay its debt in installments. As a result, Kaohsiung gained some time to raise the necessary funds.

There are of course fundamental problems with the national health insurance program. Its finances have been in the red for years and all the local governments are complaining about the astronomical insurance subsidies they must pay to the NHIB. These problems have multiple long-standing causes, and Ma can hardly be blamed for all of them. However, Taipei City owes the NHIB money, a lot of money actually, and this is a fact that can no longer be denied. The debt will not disappear and it is a problem that will not go away on its own. If the city files more lawsuits and appeals, the problems can be taken out of Ma's hands. However, there is no way to take it out of the hands of Taipei's government and its residents. Under the circumstances, one must ask that Ma and his team act like adults and work out a pragmatic solution with the NHIB.

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