Thu, Jan 06, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Officials deny imminent hike in health insurance

`GROUNDLESS' Although the Department of Health is considering raising premiums, the plan will be open to public debate before it is sent to the Cabinet for review

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH CNA

The Minister of Health and the Executive Yuan yesterday dismis-sed speculation about an imminent hike in national health insurance premiums, saying that even if such an adjustment were to be approved, it would take at least three months to come into effect.

"It's a groundless rumor," Cabinet Spokesman Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said.

"While the Department of Health is still studying various possibilities, we don't expect to make any final decision until after Premier Yu Shyi-kun leads the Executive Yuan to resign," he said.

The Executive Yuan decided yesterday that the Cabinet will resign on Jan 24. The Central News Agency reported that the Executive Yuan had decided on the date because the outgoing legislature would go into recess on Jan. 21, and President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) would be leaving for a visit abroad on Jan. 27. Yu yesterday officially authorized the date.

According to Chen, the health department is scheduled to hold a two-day civic meeting starting on Jan. 15 to solicit opinions from the general public, healthcare experts and academics. Conclusions of the meeting will be made available and presented to the health department on Jan. 22.

The department will then call a review meeting before sending its proposal to the Executive Yuan for review and approval.

Minister of Health Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) yesterday also denied the reports.

Admitting that the national health insurance program has been operating deep in the red, Chen said that even if premiums are raised to help offset the mounting financial pressure, they will not come into effect for at least three months as a result of bureaucratic requirements.

Chen said that a consensus on what to do ought to be reached at the public forum, and that the Bureau of National Health Insurance will come up with a finance plan afterwards. If the plan is approved by the Department of Health, it will be submitted to the Executive Yuan for approval prior to being forwarded to the Legislative Yuan. The whole process will be completed in three months in accordance with the regulations of the Legislative Yuan, Chen said.

Chen claimed that the rights of and medical care for patients, particularly those in emergency rooms or critical care wards, will not be compromised, even if rates are raised.

Health department officials said that the national health insurance program can break even for the next two years if premiums are raised to 5.01 percent, with in-the-black operations expected to stay healthy for five years if premiums are raised to 5.11 percent.

Health insurance officials are asking everyone who has used the national health insurance scheme to support revisions to the system. They said that the program can be maintained for two to five more years if each person chips in an extra NT$50 to NT$100 per month.

According to the bureau, health insurance premiums have only been raised once since the program was started in 1995. Premiums were raised from 4.25 percent to 4.55 percent in September 2002.

Meanwhile, the legislative caucus of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) said yesterday that the party will support raised premiums.

However, TSU party whip Huang Tsung-yuan (黃宗源) said the TSU will support the increase only after the health insurance bureau has reviewed its expenditure protocols and made sure that the money is not inappropriately spent.

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