Tue, Mar 09, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Health minister resigns over premium dispute

NATIONAL DEBT Premier Wu rejected the resignation.The health minister voiced concerns about the legality of adopting a multi-rate health insurance premium

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Department of Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang announces his resignation during a press conference in Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO: WANG MIN-WEI, TAIPEI TIMES

Department of Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) tendered his resignation in a shock move yesterday, saying he could not fulfill Premier Wu Den-yih’s (吳敦義) request that 75 percent of the insured be exempted from a proposal to increase national health insurance premiums.

Wu rejected Yaung’s resignation late last night, however. Executive Yuan spokesman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) said the premier hoped Yaung would stay in the position.

Yaung stuck to his original proposal, in which 41 percent of the insured would see a slight increase in their premium in order to pull the debt-ridden Bureau of National Health Insurance (BNHI) out of its predicament.

Under the current system, the premium rate for employees is set at 4.55 percent of 30 percent of their registered insurance subscription (投保薪資).

The Department of Health (DOH) proposed raising that percentage to 5.09 and that the new payment scale be applicable to all workers earning at least a monthly income of NT$24,000.

If approved by the Executive Yuan, which is highly unlikely, only 59 percent of the insured, or 13.9 million people, would be spared from paying an average of NT$97 extra per month.

Farmers, fishermen, the military and low-income families would not see a change in their rates under the proposed plan.

Yaung said the increase in premiums could potentially help the bureau roll in an additional NT$4.5 billion (US$141 million) per year.

The 63-year-old Yaung is the third health minister to step down under President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration in less than two years, serving just seven months.

His departure leaves the universal healthcare controversy in limbo.

“National insurance cannot fail, especially during an economic downturn. This is the government’s most solemn commitment to the people,” the minister said.

Yuang insisted that it would be impossible to meet the premier’s expectation and dig the bureau out of its NT$58.8 billion hole.

The bureau estimates the debt could exceed NT$101.5 billion by the end of the year, BNHI Director Cheng Shou-hsia (鄭守夏) said.

Last Tuesday, Yaung pitched the plan to the premier, who rejected the idea.

He instructed the minister to return with a new plan within seven days that would exempt three-fourths of the insured from the new payment scale.

“Frankly, under the current law, it is impossible for us to come up with a plan [as per Wu’s request] unless we pass an amendment to the National Health Insurance Act (全民健保法) immediately,” Yaung said.

The act stipulates that everyone, regardless of income level, must be charged a uniform rate — a major reason for the downfall of the insurance system, the health department has said.

Yaung, known for his outspokenness, said now was the best time to throw the premium issue into the mix because “there might not be any room left” as the year-end special municipality elections are approaching.

“Taiwan holds elections every year,” he said at the end of the press conference.

The two deputy health ministers, as well as Cheng, have also offered their resignations.

Yaung’s announcement caught the Executive Yuan off guard.

Ma and Wu learned of the news when they were attending an event celebrating International Women’s Day.

Wu received a call at around 3:30pm from an aide informing him that Yaung was to resign at 4pm.

He then walked out of the venue and called Yaung.

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