Activists press for readjustment of insurance threshold

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff writer, with CNA

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 - Page 3

With the controversial second-generation National Health Insurance (NHI) program taking effect on Jan. 1, several civic groups yesterday called on the government to ease the burden of the economically disadvantaged by raising the income exemption threshold for supplementary premiums.

Representatives from the National Health Insurance Civic Surveillance Alliance, the Taiwan Labor Front and the League of Welfare Organizations for the Disabled called for raising the threshold to the same level as the minimum monthly wage — NT$18,780 — for the unemployed and housewives.

The demand came after an unexpected decision by the Department of Health on Friday to include postgraduate students in the group defined by the government as “students pursuing studies at junior colleges or undergraduate programs at universities without full-time job,” which are exempted from the supplementary premium if their moonlighting income falls below the statutory basic wage.

Under the second-generation NHI system, a 2 percent supplementary premium is imposed on each NT$5,000 an insured individual earns from six sources — moonlighting, rent, interest, stock dividends, professional practice, as well as job bonuses that are more than four times the individual’s monthly salary.

Under the new rules, people under the age of 18, lower--middle income families, people with disabilities or those who meet certain economic conditions are exempted from the supplementary premium if their part-time income is lower than the minimum monthly wage.

National Health Insurance Civic Surveillance Alliance spokesperson Eva Teng (滕西華) said that faced with pressure from certain interest groups, the Department of Health raised the income threshold subject to the 2 percent supplementary premium “from the originally proposed NT$2,000 to the current NT$5,000 for most individuals; to the same level as the minimum monthly wage of NT$18,780 for postgraduate students; and to NT$20,000 for interest income.”

Teng said the jobless rate remains high at 4.27 percent, with the number of unemployed people reaching 487,000, based on the latest figures released by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics.

However, the NHI system assigns a “virtual” monthly salary of NT$26,000 to jobless people as the basis for calculating their premium. As such, they are obliged to pay a monthly premium of about NT$749, roughly the same amount paid by an insured individual who makes NT$48,000 a month, Teng said.

As many people who are unable to find regular employment have to take up several part-time jobs to make ends meet, they may end up in worse financial straits if they also have to pay a supplementary premium on each NT$5,000 they earn, she said.

“Does the government only go for the easy target? How can the lives of jobless people be any easier than that of postgraduate students?” Teng asked.

Taiwan Labor Front secretary-general Son Yu-lian (孫友聯) said that such an unfair treatment extends to housewives, particularly those who join the NHI through their spouses, as they have to pay a supplementary premium for moonlighting income that is meant to help with family expenses.