Mon, Jan 13, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Opposition set to press for DOH head's impeachment

CHANGEAROUND Recent scandals have been more than lawmakers could handle and they say it is time for a new broom to take control of the health ministry

By Ko Shu-Ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Opposition lawmakers today will petition the Control Yuan to impeach Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲), head of the Department of Health, and Chang Hong-jen (張鴻仁), general manager of the Bureau of National Health Insurance, to take responsibility for what they said was poor management and supervision of the seven-year-old, debt-ridden National Health Insurance program.

In an apparent attempt to ease the tension between the executive and legislative branches, Twu yesterday made no further comments on the matter.

He had pledged to forge ahead with the new fee scheme despite a legislative resolution to suspend it.

The Legislative Yuan on Friday approved the government's budget for this year but attached a resolution demanding an immediate stop to the four-month old increase in National Health Insurance premiums and co-payment rates.

The health department introduced the current fee scheme last September, saying it could not keep the health insurance program afloat otherwise.

Opposition legislators, however, argued that the government should seek first to crack down on inefficiencies in the health system.

Independent Legislator Sisy Chen (陳文茜), who held a press conference to outline the reasons for impeaching Twu and Chang, said that the two deserved to be impeached because they had poorly managed and supervised the health insurance scheme.

"Instead of figuring out a way to curb rampant medical costs to save the health insurance program from bankruptcy, the two agencies came up with the wrongful policy of increasing the monthly premium and co-payment fees," Chen said.

Claiming losses of between NT$1.5 billion and NT$2 billion a month, the two agencies launched a new fee system on Sept. 1 last year, the day Twu became acting head of the health department, to raise the premium rate from 4.25 to 4.55 percent of salaries in addition to raising the fees paid by patients at medical facilities.

While the government should take care of the medical needs of the underprivileged, Chen said, the government instead asks those who cannot afford the insurance fees to pay more on their outstanding insurance fees and keeps their insurance cards to bar them from seeking medical help until they pay off the default.

The two agencies should also be held accountable for the recent medical blunders in Taipei and Pingtung counties, she said.

In the foul-ups, patients were given vaccines or drugs incorrectly, apparently because they failed to understand English labeling.

In addition to the impeachment, Chen said she would continue to push for amending the Health Insurance Law to let the legislature have the final say on the hike in insurance fees.

Regulations stipulate that legislative consent is not necessary as long as the insurance premium does not exceed 6 percent of subscribers' monthly incomes.

Chen also lambasted the year-end bonus health insurance bureau staff are getting this year.

"It's outrageous that while some people cannot afford the insurance fees, bureau staff are getting a year-end bonus," she said.

In response, Twu said that he has already requested the bureau review the bonus system, and is considering excluding the revenues generated from the new fee scheme from its annual revenues.

"There'll be a fairer bonus system as soon as the legislative body rules that the bureau is a government agency rather than a profit-making entity," he said.

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