Fri, Dec 03, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Legislators slammed for murky bill deliberations

CLOSED MEETINGS A foundation charged that health bills do not get enough public scrutiny, leading to a legislative process ripe for abuse

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Taiwan Health Reform Foundation yesterday accused some legislators of conflicts of interest while reviewing medical bills, and urged the government to make the legislative process for such bills more transparent.

"Since the Legislative Yuan Gazette only provides the meeting's conclusion for the record, there is no way for voters to know a legislator's stance on a controversial budget bill," the foundation's president Chang Ly-yun (張笠雲) said. "How are the voters going to know whom they can trust to be our gatekeeper of national health insurance?"

According to the Foundation, the party caucuses shirk public scrutiny by engaging in closed-door negotiations on the annual NT$360 billion health budget.

"We pay the NT$400 insurance premium every month, but we are not allowed even a look into the actuarial black box," Chang said.

The closed-door negotiations are potential hotbeds of under-the-table dealings, the foundation said.

It singled out doctor-turned-legislator Chiu Yeong-jen (邱永仁) for criticism. Chiu runs a dialysis center in Kaohsiung for patients with defective kidneys but also serves as a committee member reviewing the health budget.

"Wavering between the government's goal to minimize cost and the hospital's goal to maximize profit, how would a legislator like Chiu compromise between his conflicting roles?" Chang said.

Chiu defended himself by noting that although he is a member of the committee, he has not attended any meetings. To avoid any conflict of interest, Chiu said that he has attended another committee to oversee the high-tech development budget instead.

"For the past six legislative sessions, I never went to the health committee. This may be a politically motivated smear campaign," said Chiu, who is running as a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator-at-large.

The foundation also berated the government for failing to force hospitals to declare their finances before considering another insurance hike. DPP legislator Chen Sheng-hung (陳勝宏) and Tony Jian (簡肇棟) came under fire for their objection to making hospitals' financial statements public.

Since the foundation called for the Department of Health (DOH) to publish financial statements of the 54 hospitals funded by nonprofit foundations, less than ten have put their financial statements on their Web sites. The DOH has demanded that all foundation-funded hospitals declare their financial statements by Jan. 15. However, no penalty has been stipulated for failing to comply.

Faced with the foundation's charges, Jian said that the foundation's appeal for more transparent hospital finances is "logically flawed."

"Asking a hospital to declare how much profit it reaps is like asking a person what your salary is," Jian said. "It is an issue of privacy."

To highlight legislators' suspected meddling in health affairs, the foundation cited a survey made by People First Party Legislator Cheng San-yuan (鄭三元) in 2002, in which 7 superintendents of the 27 DOH-funded hospitals admitted to be under pressure from legislators lobbying on behalf of certain drugs.

The foundation called for all legislative hopefuls to pledge that they will avoid conflicts of interest and establish transparency as the "rule of thumb" in reviewing the health budget.

"Any disputed bill should be subject to public scrutiny and not just decided in a room by a handful of legislators," Chang said.

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