Thu, Mar 11, 2010 - Page 3 News List

Yaung to brief Ma on health premiums

HEALTHCARE CRISISThe health minister’s meeting with Ma next week has increased speculation that he may not resign after all. It remains unclear who would replace him

By Jenny W. hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Uncertainty over the fate of Department of Health (DOH) Minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) increased yesterday after he revealed that he would still meet President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) next Wednesday to brief him on a proposal to increase national health insurance premiums, despite his resignation on Monday.

“It would be very disrespectful to the nation if I missed the scheduled briefing session with the president,” the minister told an impromptu press conference yesterday morning, fueling speculation that he might remain in his post and that his resignation was orchestrated.

Two days after his shock announcement, Yaung stuck to his usual message that the country’s healthcare system must increase premiums to remain solvent.

Yaung resigned on Monday, saying he was unable to deliver on Premier Wu Den-yih’s (吳敦義) promise to ensure that 75 percent of the insured population be spared from the proposed increase in premiums.

Yaung also voiced concern over the government’s possible intention to implement a multiple-rate payment scale, saying that this would necessitate an amendment to the National Insurance Act (全民健保法).

“If the Executive Yuang is adamant on the multi-rate payment scale, then that is what we will discuss,” he said, adding that the purpose of raising premiums was not to further burden the average citizen, but to ensure that all people can enjoy high-quality healthcare.

Under the current system, all insurers must pay 4.55 percent of 30 percent of their registered insurance subscription. The insurance subscription refers to the level at which an employer registers an employee for health insurance, and it is usually roughly equivalent to an employee’s monthly salary.

The department says that a slight increase — to 5.09 percent — could help the debt-ridden Bureau of National Health Insurance (BNHI) recover an extra NT$48.5 billion (US$1.52 billion) a year.

On average, each person would pay NT$78 more each month under the DOH’s plan, which in Yaung’s words, is “equivalent to the cost of a lunch box.”

Asked how he would respond if the president asked him to stay, Yaung would only say: “The fate of my career matters very little.”

BNHI Director-general Cheng Shou-hsia (鄭守夏) is expected to hold a press conference this morning to explain the details of the proposed hike.

Although Wu has rejected Yaung’s resignation twice, the outspoken minister failed to appear at yesterday’s Sanitation, Environment and Social Welfare Committee meeting, which adjourned after only nine minutes.

Committee members said the meeting would reconvene after the new minister is installed.

Yaung has publicly supported former health minister Yeh ­Ching-chuan’s (葉金川) return to the post.

Medical professionals have speculated that another longtime healthcare reform advocate, former president of the Taiwan Hospital Association Delon Wu (吳德朗) might take over, while others say current Deputy Minister Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) was the most likely candidate.

Meanwhile, 17 medical associations yesterday released a joint statement urging Yaung to rethink his resignation, touting the minister as a “strong talent” to steer the country through the national insurance crisis.

Yesterday afternoon, Ma met Yaung at Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) headquarters and urged him not to resign.

Ma, who also doubles as KMT chairman, had a private talk with Yaung for about five minutes before presiding over the KMT Central Standing Committee meeting.

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