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No speedy passage of health insurance act: activists

2010/07/04 15:20:34

Taipei, July 4 (CNA) National health insurance watchdogs pannedthe Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee Sunday,accusing it of attempting to smuggle the draft amendment of the muchdebated second-generation health plan under the National HealthInsurance Act in a provisional meeting slated for next week.

According to the activists, the committee and the medical sectorhave not forged a consensus on 25 of the 99 articles contained in thedraft for the health plan -- the most controversial item on themeeting agenda.

In spite the incomplete negotiation process, the committee,spearheaded by ruling Kuomintang Legislator Yang Li-huan, is expectedto go ahead with the review and possibly pass the amendment nextWednesday or Thursday.

The second-generation plan refers to a new scheme to calculatepremiums based on total household incomes rather than the existingsystem, which considers only individuals' salaries. However, there isstill debate on the definition of "household" and what should becounted as total income.

Moreover, questions about the employer's share of the premiumshave also not been squared away. "This is totally unacceptable. Thereare still many crucial questions that remain unanswered regarding theamendment. A hasty review or passage of the act will result inunthinkable disaster, " said Sun Yu-lian, convener of the NationalHealth Insurance Civic Surveillance Alliance.

Sun accused Yang of backtracking on a promise made in May that anopen debate and consultation would be held prior to the legislativereview to iron out details of the health plan before the passage.

Asked to comment, Yang and her assistants declined to respond.

Taiwan Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Association Secretary-GeneralHuang Bo-hsiung pointed out that after years of debate, the Bureau ofNational Health Insurance (BNHI) under the Department of Health stillhas not told public what the exact premium rate will be after thehealth plan takes effects.

Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang, the brainchild behind theoriginal health plan unveiled in 1995 and the main figure behind thesecond-generation plan, has repeatedly urged a timely passage of theamendment before important upcoming elections.

On several occasions, Yaung, a public health expert, hascriticized Taiwan's election culture as the biggest hurdle blockingreforms of Taiwan's universal health-care system.

"If the DOH is serious about reforming the health insurancesystem to ensure fairness and transparency, it should protest againstthe committee's plan to discuss the issue during the provisionalmeeting," said Sun.

The DOH raised the premium rate in April from 4.55 percent to5.17 percent as a stopgap measure to keep the cash-strapped BNHIsolvent.

The department said that under the second generation plan, 78percent of those covered by the insurance program will remainunaffected by the rate hikes because of offsetting subsidies. Thegovernment will fully subsidize the hike in premiums for those whoseincome for insurance purposes falls below NT$41,000, and will cover20 percent of the increase for those in the NT$42,000 to NT$53,000bracket.

Those whose premiums are based on incomes of over NT$53,000 willnot receive any subsidies to defray the increase.

(By Jenny W. Hsu)