Statistics show health insurance needed

Updated: 2015-12-25 07:52

By China Daily(HK Edition)

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Affordable health insurance is sorely needed as a rapidly aging population is confronted with ever more expensive medical costs - with public hospital fees rising by more than a fifth over the last 10 years, latest official data from the Census and Statistics Department (CSD) reveals.

Medical costs in both the public and private sectors have increased by 21.9 percent in the past decade, according to the CSD, and have been the major factor in the rise of the consumer price index (CPI), the government's key indicator for measuring inflation of consumer goods and services.

Cost increases are expected to accelerate, with the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers estimating healthcare charges will increase by another 10 percent this year.

The share of medical costs within the CPI rose to be the seventh-largest component among 15 goods and services categories tracked by the CSD in 2014, while medical care costs were not in the top 15 categories counted in 2005.

For the private sector, the median costs for private practitioners and private hospitals soared by 47 percent from 2007 to 2015, according to the CSD. By comparison, median household income only grew by 37 percent in the same period.

Statistics show health insurance needed

Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) Health and Social Sciences Faculty Instructor Chow Sung-ming said a shortage in public medical resources had exacerbated inflation. And while public healthcare remained largely affordable for everybody, a mismatch between demand and supply had widened because of the aging population - resulting in longer waiting time for non-emergency treatments.

Patients awaiting joint replacement operations had to wait for up to 71 months as of January this year, according to the Hospital Authority.

PolyU healthcare economics Professor Peter Yuen Pok-man said elderly people with chronic diseases were increasingly turning to private hospitals for quality and timely follow-up treatment. But many were not covered by insurance due to high premiums for older insurers.

Most of the city's seniors are not insured for private healthcare, with 47.8 percent of residents not covered by any healthcare insurance as of October this year. Among those who are insured, only 14.2 percent are aged over 65.

The government has been working on the Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme to lure residents into taking out insurance on their own with more affordable plans. But Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man confirmed relevant legislation was unlikely to be passed before 2018.

(HK Edition 12/25/2015 page7)