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Sat, May 13, 2000 - Page 3 News List

New health chief ready to tackle insurance woes

RED INK With the public medical system spending more than it takes in every year, the new Director-general of the Department of Health announced an ad hoc group charged with overhauling the system

By Liu Shao-hua  /  STAFF REPORTER

Newly-appointed Director-general of the Department of Health (DOH) Lee Ming-liang (李明亮) said yesterday that an ad hoc group has been established to overhaul the public health insurance system -- and it held its first meeting last night to discuss related issues.

Lee said the group is led by the National Health Research Institute (國家衛生研究院) and is made up of consumer representatives, doctors and public health workers.

"I know politics are troublesome, but I am ready to confront it," Lee said. "Seeking the greatest balance of interests [public health insurance for everyone] will be the priority [issue] during my term," Lee said, adding that the group will look for a feasible -- rather than an idealistic -- solution.

"Public health awareness will be another emphasis of my future policy. I will promise to implement better public health education during my term."

Lee also pointed to other problems in the health care system.

"In the past Taiwan focused on medical treatment but overlooked overall public health," Lee said -- a practice he said he would like to change.

The issue of public health insurance looms large as a potential burden for the new government due to its heavy financial losses, as well as a controversial debate over the possibility of raising insurance premiums.

Official statistics show local governments owe debts to the central government because of public health insurance expenditures amounting to the tune of NT$28,400,000,000 -- the main source of the insurance program's deficit.

A group of 15 lawmakers brought problems and suggestions regarding health-related issues to Lee's attention yesterday, focusing mainly on whether public health insurance is a form of social welfare or an insurance system -- each of which requires a different approach.

Lee said he had no predisposed attitude toward the notion, saying that should be decided by the public. "If the people want it to be social welfare, they should be mentally prepared to pay more taxes for it."

Another problem brought up by the group was the imbalance of subsidies in public health insurance, a problem which has caused an overcrowding of patients in large-scale hospitals, while leaving regional hospitals or clinics virtually empty.

"This will make community hospitals disappear," said DPP legislator Chen Chao-nan (陳昭南).

Some said the subsidy problem was widely believed to be the main reason for the lack of surgeons in Taiwan, because the system treats both general practioners and specialists the same when it comes to subsidy payments.

"It's really a very serious problem," Lee admitted. "I am afraid there could be no surgeons left in 10 years."

Lee said the ad hoc group will look into all the facts of public health insurance, but added much would depend on public response.

"Decisions have to depend on public consensus," Lee said.

Lee is currently the president of the Tzu Chi College of Medicine and Humanities -- and lawmakers attending the meeting later said he had responded to their questions and suggestions in a frank and straightforward way -- which they described as the "scholar's style."

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