TAIPEI: The government has not set a timeline for raising the mandatory health insurance premiums, nor has it worked out a new rate, a Department of Health (DOH) official said yesterday.
"There is no timetable for an adjustment of the health insurance premiums and the DOH has not yet finalized an adjustment plan, " said Cheng Shou-hsia, general manager of the DOH's health insurance division.
Cheng was responding to a local newspaper report that DOH chief Yaung Chih-liang has "strongly recommended" to Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou that the premiums should be raised from the present 4.55 percent to 5.13 percent of the insured's monthly salary from next spring.
Yaung made the recommendation while briefing Ma on a DOH-initiated health insurance system reform plan earlier this month, according to the report.
However, Yaung rebutted the report in an interview earlier in the day, saying that he merely conveyed his opinion to Ma, but did not make any "strong recommendation," and did not propose any timeline for any adjustment.
"The report was incorrect," Cheng said, reiterating that the timing for an increase in premiums has not yet been decided and that the adjustment range has not been set.
Noting that Wu Den-yi, chief of the Executive Yuan, has consistently directed all government agencies to exhaust every means at their disposal to reduce expenditure and increase income, Cheng said the health insurance division has been following this principle in addressing its financial straits.
At the moment, he said, the health insurance division is focused on cutting expenses. In addition to promoting integrated healthcare programs, it plans to launch a project at the start of the coming year in which grassroots pharmacists will make house calls in an effort to find out whether patients are visiting more than one doctor and obtaining multiple prescriptions for the same medication.
The DOH's health insurance staff and social workers will also be assigned to offer counseling services for those who have seen doctors more than 100 times a year, Cheng said.
As to the future premium rate, Cheng said, 5.13 percent is just a figure upon which to base a trial calculation. "We have not yet come up with a reform proposal based on that figure," he added.
In his view, Cheng continued, the fairest and most just way to overhaul the national health insurance system lies in the implementation of a second-generation system that will collect insurance premiums based on overall household incomes instead of personal salaries, which is the method used in the existing program.
Addressing the Council for Industrial and Commercial Development the previous day, Yaung said the current premium of 4.55 percent of the insured people's income is lower than what he described as the "reasonable ratio" of 6.97 percent.
He said Taiwan's universal health insurance system will go bankrupt in 10 years if the relatively low premiums remain unchanged.
"If the premium system remains unchanged, those with low incomes and the socially disadvantaged will be the ones who face the consequences, because the rich will be able to find alternatives via private insurance," he warned.
(HK Edition 11/26/2009 page2)