Tue, May 27, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Watchdog calls for NHI transparency

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS The Alliance for Surveillance of the National Health Insurance said that Taiwan took 30 months longer to approve drugs than other countries

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Alliance for Surveillance of the National Health Insurance said yesterday that it suspected financial problems of the National Insurance System were a result of illegal practices decided on in closed-door Department of Health (DOH) meetings and urged more transparency.

“The public is paying for the National Health Insurance [NHI], so of course it deserves to know how the money is spent,” Eva Teng (滕西華), spokeswoman for the group, said at a press conference at the Legislative Yuan yesterday.

“After he was inaugurated, the new DOH minister, Lin Fang-yue [林芳郁], said that the NHI needs reform — why not start with more transparency?” she said.

At the moment, several NHI committees — including the NHI Supervisory Committee and the NHI Medical Expenditure Negotiation Committee — categorize their meetings as “classified,” the group said.

“This makes the NHI decision-making process a bit of a mystery to the public,” Teng said. “[We’ve heard] that many committee members speak only for their own personal interests, not for the public.”

“For example, some medicines are proven to be ineffective, but are never removed from the NHI’s list because some committee members think they should remain so that manufacturers don’t lose out on business,” she told the news conference, adding that similar practices may have contributed to the NHI’s debt.

While it is not easy to remove ineffective medicines from the NHI list, it is equally hard to add new medicines to the list — and the process is equally non-transparent, she said.

“On average, it takes more than 30 months after sales start elsewhere before a new medicine is approved to be sold on the Taiwanese market — and names of review committee members are kept secret,” Teng said.

While lobbying for approval by drug manufacturers is legal and inevitable, “we want to know who these review committee members are so we can monitor whether there are illegal exchanges during the lobbying and reviewing process,” she said.

“The medical industry often claims that they lack resources and call for more NHI fees to cover the debts,” said alliance convener Son Yu-lian (孫友聯).

“But we will remain suspicious on the calls until all NHI decision-making processes are made public,” Son said.

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