Thu, Feb 19, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Plan to raise health insurance premiums shelved

FINANCIAL GAP The health minister said a proposal on supplementary premiums might be reintroduced if the economy improved by the second half of this year

By Shelley Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Amid public anger about plans to increase National Health Insurance (NHI) premiums, Department of Health (DOH) Minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) yesterday called a halt to the proposal, saying it had come at a bad time.

The proposed plan, known as the “1.5 Generation NHI Act,” would require individuals to pay a ­supplementary premium if they earn more than NT$180,000 (US$5,200) per year in non-salaried income. The Bureau of National Health Insurance said the plan would affect about 2.2 million people who earn large amounts of non-salary income from sources such as year-end bonuses, stocks, dividends, bank interest and rent.

At the end of last year, the health insurance fund suffered a deficit of NT$28 billion, a financial gap that would widen to NT$60 billion by the end of this year if the bureau does not do something about it, Bureau of National Health Insurance chief executive officer Chu Tzer-ming (朱澤民) said.

The bureau had hoped to increase the fund’s revenue by NT$44.4 billion per year under the proposed plan, which has been met with widespread criticism because of the global economic climate.

Yeh told a press conference yesterday that the plan would not come into effect this year, as it was “bad timing” to talk about financing the fund with increased premiums while individuals and businesses are all feeling the pressure from the global economic downturn.

“Maybe by the latter half of this year the economy will improve and everyone will be in a better mood to talk about [the plan],” he said. “With the economy doing so poorly right now, everyone would object. Supplementary premiums are only one of the many ways we can fill the fund’s financial gap.”

One option would be to raise the tobacco health and welfare surcharge from the current NT$10 to NT$20 per pack of cigarettes. However, Yeh said this would only cut the fund’s deficit to NT$48 billion, which is still NT$8 billion more than his goal of NT$40 billion.

Yeh said the bureau should seek to improve the fund’s financial condition by improving the process of approving drugs for NHI coverage and actively reviewing medical institutions for NHI violations.

Critics dismissed the idea of financing the fund by raising the tobacco surcharge.

“Isn’t this telling smokers to save the fund by smoking?” said Eva Teng (滕西華), spokesperson of the National Health Insurance Civic Surveillance Alliance. “It would be impossible to put the plan into effect by the end of this year anyway.”

Teng said the department was playing word games with the public in an attempt to put the matter to rest.

Meanwhile, Yeh said the amount in NHI subsidies owed by local governments would be dealt with as per the Regulations for Allotment of Centrally Funded Tax Revenues (中央統籌分配稅款管理辦法).

“After the amendment [of the National Health Insurance Act (全民健康保險法)], the subsidy should be paid for by the central government … but the local governments will still have to pay what they already owe,” he said.

Bureau statistics showed that local governments owe subsidy debts totaling NT$53.9 billion, with Taipei City Government alone owing NT$29.1 billion.

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) yesterday urged the DOH to re-evaluate the timetable for its premium hikes.

Government Information Office Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) said the premier had asked the DOH to reconsider its plan to collect supplementary premiums.

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