In yet another effort to keep universal health insurance afloat, the Bureau of National Health yesterday started recruiting a 20-member citizens' panel to discuss viable strategies.
"National Health Insurance is everyone's business. It belongs to everyone and should be decided by everyone," bureau president Liu Chien-hsiang (劉見祥) said.
The national health insurance system has been troubled by financial deficits for years. This year, the bureau's income stood at NT$352.6 billion, while its expenditures amounted to NT$355.2 billion.
"We estimate that spending will soar to NT$369.8 billion next year," said Lai Chu-wen (賴主文), vice manager of the bureau's financial analysis division.
To curb the ever-rising medical expenditure resulting from an ageing population, the bureau put a reimbursement cap on large hospitals early this year. The budget ceiling drew outraged responses from hospitals and thousands of health workers took to the streets to protest the measure in October.
Hospital managers said that they would need an extra NT$30 billion on top of the NT$260 billion allotted to them by the bureau.
Since early this year, bureau officials have held seminars nationwide in the hopes of building a consensus on how to relieve the financial dilemma, but to no avail.
In a bid to give the public a say in the policymaking process, the bureau called on academics to organize a citizens' panel to hammer out a viable solution.
"The 20 chosen citizens will attend a five-day meeting and classes on health insurance issues. The fundamental belief of the deliberative model is that common citizens, after being adequately informed, can understand, discuss and participate in a specialized subject such as the fiscal balance of the insurance system," said Lin Kuo-ming (林國明), an associate professor at National Taiwan University, who helped organize the panel.
All citizens over the age of 20 are eligible to apply for membership on the panel. The closing date for applications is Dec. 23.
The executive committee will randomly choose 20 members to include people from different social strata, age groups, educational levels and places of residence.
"It is important that the composition will reflect the diversity and heterogeneity of our society," Lin said. To ensure the panel's objectivity, Lin said that anyone with a direct stake in the issue would be excluded from attending the meeting.
The executive committee will convene next Friday to announce the names of lecturers and keynote speakers who will attend the meeting.
"We hope that we can attract at least 2,000 applicants in a week's time," said Louis Liu (劉在銓), general manager of the bureau's department of planning and evaluation.