In a surprising turn of events, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-dominated legislature yesterday failed to pass a controversial amendment to the National Health Insurance Act (全民健康保險法) after an 11th-hour intervention by the speaker.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), also a KMT member, surprised many by announcing on the legislative floor that a second and third reading for the majority of the items included in the second-generation healthcare bill would be delayed. He did not set a date for the review.
Wang’s move came after the legislature voted down a motion by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to modify Article 1 of the bill proposed by the Executive Yuan.
The article defines National Health Insurance (NHI) as a compulsory social insurance and stipulates that the insured are entitled to stipends in cases of illness, injury and childbirth.
The DPP’s motion included the definition, but sought to lay down a number of principles for the nation’s biggest compulsory health insurance system, saying the system must be fair, that it must apply to everyone, be affordable and maintain its integrity.
The speaker had initially resolved to put the motion for deliberation on the floor, but KMT caucus whip Lin Yi-shih (林益世) called for a direct vote instead.
Lin immediately drew criticism from DPP lawmakers, who said he was denying the party the opportunity to have an open discussion on the legislative floor.
The plenary session was brought to a standstill until about 4pm over disagreements with the new premium scheme proposed by the Executive Yuan to aid the debt-ridden healthcare system.
Unlike the current program, which calculates premiums based on an individual’s salary, the second-generation healthcare plan would do so based on total household income.
Legislators for the most part agree on the idea of calculating premiums based on household income, but the two major parties differed on how to define the term household income.
The DPP caucus suggested the inclusion of capital gains, income abroad and retirement pensions available to civil servants and teachers in the calculation of household income, a move that was supported by some KMT lawmakers, but opposed by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Executive Yuan.
The KMT supports the DOH and the Executive Yuan’s version, which would determine the premiums for housewives and the unemployed by assuming a “virtual” monthly income of NT$17,280.
However, the DPP opposes the idea, saying the scheme does not reflect reality and would damage the interests of the economically disadvantaged.
During the KMT caucus’ meeting earlier yesterday, a number of KMT lawmakers lashed out at the Executive Yuan for failing to clarify the premium rate in the bill and accused the government of forcing them to sign a “blank check.”
“This is the most ridiculous bill I have ever had to review,” KMT Legislator Yang Li-huan (楊麗環) told Minister of Health Yaung Chih--liang (楊志良) and Vice Premier Sean Chen (陳沖) during the meeting.
KMT Legislator Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) told reporters after the meeting that some KMT legislators were worried that “we may have to pay the price in the next legislative and presidential elections [if the bill were passed].”
KMT Legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) said the bill proposed by the Executive Yuan did not live up to public expectations.