Wed, Jan 26, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Health department to impose austerity measures to save insurance program

CNA , TAIPEI

The Department of Health (DOH) will adopt austerity measures to save the national health insurance program from bankruptcy without raising premiums for a year or so, a senior official said yesterday.

DOH Director-General Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) said that since participants to a civic meeting last week on the health insurance program unanimously rejected a proposed hike in insurance premiums, the department will respect this conclusion and refrain from raising premiums this year.

Acknowledging that there is room for the annual health care expenditures to be cut by 5 percent to 10 percent, Chen said if waste can be curbed and cost-saving measures implemented, the health insurance program should be able to continue operations without the need to raise premiums for another year or so.

Chen urged people not to use outpatient resources for minor ailments. Each person in the country makes an average of 14.5 hospital outpatient visits per year, far higher than the average of seven or eight visits in the US and major European countries.

"If we can minimize unnecessary hospital outpatient visits and medical examinations, we'll be able to save medical resources for those who are suffering from acute, serious or rare diseases, " Chen said.

Other cost-cutting measures will include stopping payments for epidemic prevention and public health promotion programs as well as subsidies for teaching hospitals, Chen said, adding that money for those programs can be paid from government budgets.

According to Chen, the health insurance program's reserve funds will be used up by the end of March. After that, Chen said the Cabinet has set aside NT$11 billion in its budget plan for this year to help support the program.

Chen said his department has begun designing a second-generation health insurance program under which the premiums will be collected in terms of total household income.

The 20 participants in last week's conference, organized by National Taiwan University's sociology department, unanimously agreed that action should be taken to save the program from bankruptcy, but not through an increase in insurance premiums.

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