Lawmakers yesterday concluded the legislature’s second provisional session of the summer recess and decided to postpone the review of a bill to reform the National Health Insurance (NHI) system until December.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) told reporters after a cross-party negotiation meeting in the morning that lawmakers agreed put off reviewing the bill because it remained controversial.
Legislators agreed to make the proposal a priority for the fall legislative session, Wang said.
He said a consensus was reached to put the bill to a second reading on Dec. 3, and a third reading on Dec. 7.
The legislature was scheduled to review the bill for a second-generation NHI program during the extra legislative session.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had hoped to push the bill through by the end of the special session, but the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) still has reservations about its contents.
Minister of Health Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良), who on Sunday urged lawmakers to set a timetable for the bill’s clearance of the legislature, had threatened to resign if legislators fail to pass the bill.
However, Wang said that while Yaung regretted the delay, the minister had accepted the decision to review the bill after November’s special municipality elections and he would not resign.
Yesterday’s decision prompted varying reactions from health activists and government officials, who were split on whether the bill should be passed quickly, although both sides agreed that the plan is not “perfect.”
Taiwan Healthcare Reform Foundation chairwoman Chang Li-yun (張苙雲) criticized the postponement, saying: “The second-generation health plan is an important bill that concerns the welfare of all Taiwanese, but legislators are only worried about how it will impact the elections.”
Chang said the foundation was extremely dissatisfied with the postponement, which would only harm the public by delaying improvements in monitoring the quality of medical care, preventing excess medical expenditures and establishing a fair and sustainable public healthcare system.
The foundation also called on the public to keep an eye on whether the legislature fulfills its promise to make the health plan a priority when the fall session begins next month.
The Consumers’ Foundation and the National Health Insurance Civic Surveillance Alliance maintained the stance that each controversial article in such an important plan, which would have an impact on the nation’s healthcare system for many years to come, should be fully discussed and not rushed through.
Eva Teng (滕西華), spokesperson for the alliance, called for more public hearings to be held on the health overhaul, especially pertaining to the income base used to calculate premium fees per household and how to deal with inconsistencies in drug and medical treatment reimbursement.
“If we don’t hold public hearings to try to reach consensus on these controversial issues, then what is the difference [between passing the bill now or later]?” Teng asked.
The Department of Health estimates that if the bill were passed at the end of this year, it would become effective in 2013 because there are many administrative systems and procedures that need to be transitioned or established in preparation for the new health insurance system.
Following a premium rate increase on April 1 to alleviate the National Health Insurance Fund’s deficit, the health department proposed a revised health plan to promote a “fairer” insurance system.
The bill involves a new scheme for calculating premiums based on total household income, rather than the existing system, which considers an individual’s salary. The change is considered essential to saving the cash-strapped program.
DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) expressed regret at the decision to postpone the review.
While admitting it would have been difficult to reach a consensus on the proposed amendments, he also said it was an important issue that needed to be addressed.
“We’ve heard many differences of opinion with KMT lawmakers and other concerned parties. The DPP caucus also has its own concerns and opinions,” he said.
As the reforms are an important part of the country’s sustainable development, we should now use the extra time to hold more talks with the KMT and government agencies, he added.
On the entire extraordinary session, Ker accused KMT lawmakers of using the period to pass amendments that were politically advantageous to it, while failing to include more important proposals that needed urgent attention.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VINCENT Y. CHAO
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