Thu, Sep 13, 2012 - Page 1 News List

NHI program steals from poor to benefit rich, watchdog says

By Lee I-chia, Lu Kuan-cheng and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

The Consumers’ Foundation yesterday said a decision by the Department of Health to initiate the second-generation National Health Insurance (NHI) program at the current premium rate of 5.17 percent rather than at 4.91 percent, as announced in May, was a breach of faith and would steal from the poor to benefit the rich.

The second-generation NHI program is scheduled to be implemented in January, with a supplementary premium of 2 percent, the foundation said, adding that Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) had said in April that the current premium rate should be adjusted to 4.91 percent.

The department is breaking its promise and is disguising the fact that the premuim will be increased, the foundation said.

“According to statistics, NHI expenditure on households with the lowest 20 percent of income grew by only 4 percent between 2000 and 2009, but expenditure on households with the highest 20 percent of income grew by 40 percent in the same period,” Consumers’ Foundation board member Hsieh Tien-jen (謝天仁) said.

“Rich people are using more medical resources than poor people, but paying the same premium rate,” he said. “This is against the spirit of the second-generation NHI program and the department should be held responsible.”

In addition, while GDP this year is expected to be below 2 percent, the growth rate of the NHI program this year is 4.3 percent and the growth rate of the total expenditure cap is set at 6 percent, he said, adding that he wondered how the medical industry can be booming while other industries suffer.

Moreover, the department has allocated a NT$4.5 billion (US$152 million) budget to improve the quality of nursing in medical facilities, but cases of nurses being overworked remain in the news, Hsieh said, adding that the foundation urges the department to re-evaluate the funding for the NHI program and to examine whether the money is being put to proper use.

The foundation said it feared an increased NHI program would result in wasteful spending on medical resources, while consumers would have to pay a higher premium than at present, which is a heavy burden for the poorer people in society.

He urged the department to keep its promise and lower the premium to 4.91 percent, as well as re-evaluate expenditure to ensure it is being used effectively.

In related developments, a proposed policy to levy a 2 percent supplementary premium on interest-derived income above a threshold of NT$2,000 on a single account has seen people searching for a legal loophole by splitting their savings accounts.

In addition to interest-derived income, the new system would also tax supplementary premiums — which will be calculated on a single-transaction basis on the principle of “withholding the premium at source” — on income earned from other sources, such as bonuses, stock dividends and rental income.

The maximum amount for each transaction is set at NT$10 million.

The 2 percent premium will be applied to both cash dividends and stock dividends, which are calculated at NT$10 per share, should the combined value of a person’s annual dividends exceed the statutory threshold.

However, if the amount of cash dividends obtained by a stockholder falls short of covering the said person’s payable premium, the Bureau of National Health Insurance would issue a payment demand to that person or take the amount from their next monthly premium.

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