The government’s plan to adjust National Health Insurance (NHI) premiums remains unchanged despite the health minister’s sudden resignation the day before, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said yesterday.
Wu told a question-and-answer session on the legislative floor that the plan to raise premiums was “necessary to ensure the financial integrity of the NHI system.”
“The government will make a reasonable adjustment while proposing supplementary measures,” Wu said.
Department of Health (DOH) Minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) surprised many on Monday by tendering his resignation two hours before he was scheduled to brief Wu on the department’s premium adjustment scheme. Yaung told a press conference that he resigned because he could not fulfil Wu’s request that 75 percent of those insured not be affected by the planned increase.
Yaung stuck to his original proposal, in which 41 percent of the insured would see a slight increase in their premium, to help the Bureau of National Health Insurance resolve its financial shortfall.
Wu yesterday said the Executive Yuan would finalize the scheme by the end of the month, adding that he would still not accept the DOH’s proposal.
“I believe it is inappropriate to apply the increase to those who only earn some NT$20,000 a month,” Wu said.
Wu again expressed his wish that Yaung would stay on by rejecting the minister’s second letter of resignation yesterday.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yesterday reiterated its call that the DOH finish collecting unpaid debts owed by municipal health departments, including Taipei City, before it increases insurance premiums.
“In the interest of taxpayers nationwide, the DPP is asking that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government first resolve the nearly NT$40 billion [US$1.25 billion] that the Taipei City Government owes in NHI payments as well as the drug pricing problems,” DPP spokesperson Lin Yu-chang (林右昌) told a press conference yesterday.
Yaung took over the reins of the DOH from then-minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) in August, vowing at the time to crack down on debts owed by local governments to the NHI system.
Lin said that while the Taipei City Government may be unwilling to pay its debt, the DOH should not stop trying to collect payment.
He said the DOH should contrast this with how it treats the public, “who have their [NHI] cards stopped if they don’t pay their fees in three months.”
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday brushed off the DPP’s call for the city to repay the debt as soon as possible, saying the city would pay the NT$34.7 billion debt within six years.
He said the city had reached a compromise with the Executive Yuan’s demand that it repay the debt in eight years, adding that he had met Yaung last year to discuss a timetable for repayment and Yaung had thanked him for shortening the period from eight to six years.
The debt was accumulated from 1999, when Ma, then-Taipei city mayor, refused to pay the health insurance subsidies for people who work in the city but whose household residency is registered elsewhere.
The city government accepted the compromise last year and agreed to pay health insurance subsidies for people who work in Taipei and are registered as Taipei residents, while the central government will share half of the subsidies for people who work in Taipei but are not registered as Taipei residents.
Meanwhile, Yaung issued a statement yesterday proposing that a referendum be held stipulating that the nation can only hold one election at most every other year.
“We now have an election almost every year, and each one of them is cut-throat competition,” Yaung said in his statement.
“A policy that is beneficial to the majority of people may be halted because it affects the candidate’s chances of winning. Just like the three legislative by-elections recently, even the president himself had to go and campaign for the candidates. Everything is out of the question if you lose the authority to rule. Politicians focus only on the elections and often put administrative affairs aside, which hurts the nation’s long-term development,” Yaung said.
At an informal luncheon with the press yesterday, Yaung said he would return to the Asia University in Taichung and become a full-time professor. He also asked the reporters to refer to him as the “former DOH minister.”
He said he would submit the DOH’s proposal for new health insurance premiums one last time before his resignation takes effect, adding that he still could not figure out why it was so difficult for the public to accept the DOH’s plan.
All it takes to save the debt-ridden NHI system was for each person to pay NT$70 to NT$80 more each month, which is about the price of a lunchbox, he said.
He said it would be the beginning of a disaster if the government did not fix the system now. He also proposed that Yeh return and take over his position.
Presidential Office Spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) yesterday said Ma supported the idea of reducing the number of elections and he was determined to see it become a reality.
Lo said Yaung was not the first person to make such a proposal and that the issue has been brought up may times over the past 20 years. Since Ma took office in May 2008, Lo said the government had been making efforts to attain the goal.
The Ministry of the Interior is also studying the possibility of holding legislative elections in tandem with the presidential election, Lo said.
Meanwhile, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) yesterday dismissed speculation that Yaung would be the KMT’s representative in the year-end special municipality election for Greater Tainan.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KO SHU-LING AND SHIH HSIU-CHUAN
Also See: EDITORIAL : Yaung sticks to some guns
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