NHI to cover Chinese students

COVERAGE::The proposal would count Chinese students like other foreigners, with a monthly premium of NT$1,249, of which 40 percent would be paid by the government

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Chris Wang  /  Staff reporters

Fri, Oct 12, 2012 - Page 1

The Cabinet yesterday approved an amendment designed to extend National Health Insurance (NHI) coverage to Chinese students studying in Taiwan and called for the legislature to back the proposal out of “humanitarian” and “human rights” concerns.

The proposal reflected that “humanitarian and human rights were highly valued by the government,” acting Cabinet spokesperson Huang Min-kung (黃敏恭) quoted Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) as saying during a press conference following the meeting.

The inclusion of Chinese students in the NHI program could “contribute a friendly living and learning environment to facilitate exchanges between young people on both sides” of the Taiwan Strait, Huang quoted Chen as saying.

Bureau of National Health Insurance Director-General Huang San-kuei (黃三桂) said “the NHI system would not incur extra financial liabilities due to the inclusion of Chinese students.”

The six categories that divide those covered by the program separate them largely based on occupation, and Chinese students would be covered under the sixth category, as are other foreigners, Huang San-kuei said.

The monthly premium rate applicable to Chinese students in the sixth category is NT$1,249, with 60 percent, or NT$749, paid for by the individual, and 40 percent, or NT$500, paid by the government, he said.

To dismiss concerns that making Chinese students eligible for the NHI program would cause more difficulties for the already financially strapped system, Huang San-kuei said the bureau did not expect medical costs incurred by the students to be higher than the premiums collected “because most of the students are young people.”

Huang San-kuei said the average annual medical expense incurred by a student aged 20 to 24 from an “overseas compatriot” family stands at about NT$4,000, and about NT$6,200 for a student from foreign countries other than China.

The annual premium to be imposed on a student from China, NT$8,988, is expected to be sufficient to cover medical costs, despite the annual reimbursement of medical expense for an individual in the group aged between 20 and 24 being slightly higher, at NT$9,084, Huang San-kuei said.

According to the National Health Insurance Act (全民健康保險法 ), any foreigner who has stayed in Taiwan for more than six months is required to enroll in the NHI system.

Chinese students are not covered in the NHI program at present because they cannot obtain residence permits, as stipulated in the Act Governing Relations between the Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例).

The Cabinet-approved amendment to the act suggests that Chinese students be granted residence status during their stay for study and that the government reserves the right to revoke the status after they complete their education.

It is based on the “principle of fairness” to revise the rule on Chinese students because students from other countries, from overseas compatriot families or Hong Kong and Macau can all enroll in the NHI system, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Secretary-General Chang Shu-ti (張樹棣) said.

A senior Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) official said the party was still finalizing its official position on including Chinese students in the NHI program, but has laid out some principles.

“In principle, the DPP thinks that while different measures should be allowed for Taiwanese and foreigners, the treatment for Chinese students should be exactly the same [as other foreigners],” said the official, who wished to remain anonymous because the party’s official policy is not yet set.

“However, the DPP believes that Chinese students should pay the full premium,” he said.

The topic has been a hot-button issue for the DPP as some anti-China supporters vehemently opposed a DPP lawmaker’s proposal to include Chinese students in the insurance program last month.

Those who opposed the inclusion said the mandatory health insurance is a de facto social welfare system funded by taxpayers, which is why foreigners should not be included in the scheme.

If the subsidy was inevitable because it would be an incentive to encourage foreign and Chinese students to study in Taiwan, the official said, the DPP thinks that the subsidy should come from the MAC rather than the Department of Health.

The party does not oppose the inclusion of foreign and Chinese students in the program, in particular those who stay in Taiwan for more than six months, out of public health concerns.

DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) yesterday said that a thorough review of the government’s proposal would be needed to avoid the kind of controversy and public backlash that occured with the introduction of the supplementary premium.