Sun, Feb 20, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Cabinet spokesman denies refusing Ma Ying-jeou a meeting

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Cabinet yesterday denied a local newspaper report which said that Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) requested a meeting with Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) to discuss health insurance-related issues, but was refused and told, "Pay off Taipei City's debts first."

"I have never made such a remark in public or in private," said Cabinet Spokesman Chou Jung-tai (卓榮泰). "This report is inaccurate."

Chou sent his denial to the press via text message yesterday morning after reading the story in a Chinese-language newspaper. The story was headlined, "Ma wished to speak with Hsieh about health insurance issues but Chou asked him to pay up first."

According to a recent ruling against the city government by the Taipei Administrative High Court, Taipei owes a total of NT$10.8 billion for the period from 1999 to 2002. The court asked the city to pay off the debt, but this case is still pending appeal.

According to Chou, Hsieh planned to meet on Feb. 25 with county commissioners and mayors for discussions regarding his new health insurance policy.

"Ma is also invited, and he will be able to talk to Hsieh then without conditions," Chou said. "In the meantime, if any government heads need to talk to the premier, meetings will always be considered upon request."

During an exclusive interview with the Taipei Times on Friday evening, Hsieh explained his new health insurance policy.

"It is a plan that will balance everybody's responsibilities," Hsieh said.

Currently, people in certain professions, such as teachers and soldiers, do not pay health insurance premiums at all.

"We have to reconsider whether that is fair, or whether they should pay, too, and perhaps not pay in full," Hsieh said.

The premier used an analogy of water and a well to explain the need to reform the nation's health insurance policy. He said that under the current system, one hundred people need to drink but only 60 of them do the work of carrying water back and forth between the well and the house. The remaining 40 people do not have to work, but enjoy free water fetched by those who do.

"As inflation continues, our payouts for health insurance increase as well," Hsieh said. "That means we constantly ask these 60 people to carry more water, while the 40 people still do not have to do anything but enjoy it."

Hsieh said the burden needed to be better distributed, but that details of who will pay more, and how much, are undecided.

"Everything is flexible," Hsieh said. "We just want to figure out a better way to handle this problem."

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