Sat, Jan 27, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Bureau warns National Health Insurance at risk

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

As the Bureau of National Health Insurance (NHI) totters on the brink of insolvency, its future was the focus of discussion at its year-end news conference yesterday.

"The NHI system is on life support," said Deputy Minister of Health Chen Shih-chung (陳時中). "We cannot allow it to fall."

Chen blames chronic underinvestment, not malfeasance, for the bureau's financial woes.

"The OECD spent 8.9 percent of its gross domestic product [GDP] on healthcare expenditures, whereas Taiwan only spent 6 percent, of which the NHI only accounted for 3.5 percent," Chen said.

Chen added that he would like to see Taiwan's healthcare expenditure raised to OECD levels by expanding spending on the NHI to 5 percent of GDP.

"We have a terrific NHI, rated second in the world by The Economist magazine," he said.

"It serves 99 percent of the population; it covers an extremely wide range of medical treatments; it has extremely low administrative costs ... but we have to be willing to pay enough to keep it going," Chen added.

He also expressed frustration with the Taipei City Government, which has raised objections to shouldering NHI expenses for out-of-town workers who work in the city.

"Taipei keeps all of Chinese Petroleum Company's local taxes because its headquarters is in Taipei even though most of the company's factories are located elsewhere," Chen said.

"So why shouldn't [Taipei] chip in for the workers' healthcare even if these workers live elsewhere?" Chen added.

The NHI has borrowed in excess of NT$70 billion from banks to cover the amount still owed to it by municipalities and individuals, Chen said.

"However, the NHI has not borrowed money simply because its expenditures exceed its income. We have been operating at a loss," he added. "We are set to run out of money after the first quarter of this year."

The "drug pricing black hole" was another hot topic of discussion at the conference.

"So far, a quarter of the hospitals have responded to our demand that they restate their drug-pricing records," bureau chief Chu Tzer-ming (朱澤民) said.

"We expect most companies to comply before the Feb. 15 deadline," Chu said

Hospitals that do not own up to exaggerating drug costs by the deadline will be punished heavily if they are later found guilty of wrongdoing, he added.

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