Fri, Oct 20, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Health system costs need attention, sayslegislative group

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Action must be taken to combat the rise in costs of the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme, lawmakers said at a meeting of the legislature's Sanitation, Environment and Social Welfare Committee yesterday.

"People are scared that the `second generation' NHI is going to be an excuse to raise premiums," said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chen Chieh (陳杰).

Democratic Progressive Party (DDP) Legislator Lin Yu-sheng (林育生) lamented that even heavy bargaining failed to curb the rise in pharmaceutical costs as a percentage of total spending.

"We've cut and cut away at drug prices," Lin said. "It's gotten to the point where pharmaceutical companies are exiting the Taiwan market and we are left with inferior drugs."

Lin described some of the drugs prescribed by the NIH as "veterinarian medicine."

According to DDP Legislator Kuo Chun-ming (郭俊銘) the best way to control costs is through discouraging the chronic overconsumption of medical services.

"In other countries, Doctors don't routinely prescribe drugs for common colds like we do here. We have too many people visiting the doctor more than a hundred times a year," he said.

Kuo said he has solicited public opinion to assess the likely reaction to a scheme rationing the number of NHI-covered clinic visits based on age.

"The impression I get is that as long as premiums don't go up, everything else is more negotiable," he said.

Kuo looked to Singapore as an instructive example when it comes to keeping costs down.

"Singapore has managed to build an excellent national health insurance scheme that costs only 4.2 percent of GDP," Kuo said. "All outpatient clinic visits are paid for out of pocket, and as a result only 4.24 percent of the population goes for an outpatient clinic visit each year."

Despite the recent concerns, Kuo says that Taiwan's NHI is still a bargain by international standards.

"Out of the 38 countries that have nationalized healthcare, I think Taiwan's might be the cheapest," Kuo said.

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