Overseas Taiwanese owing premiums will soon see health insurance cards 'locked'

In order to prevent abuse of system, NHIA will soon start 'locking' health insurance cards of overseas Taiwanese who fail to make payments

Sample Taiwan health insurance card. (Flickr user 大喜108)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- In response to the large number of overseas Taiwanese not contributing to Taiwan's universal health care system while still visiting to take advantage of it, the National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) yesterday (Jan. 15) announced that those who owe premiums will see restrictions imposed on their health insurance coverage, starting in about six months, reported CNA.

In addition, the NHIA announced that it proposes an amendment to the National Health Insurance Act (全民健康保險法) that would terminate health insurance coverage to Taiwanese citizens who fail to pay insurance premiums for more than six months, with the exception of government employees stationed abroad, missing persons, and fishery employees. According to the proposed amendment, even those who go abroad to study or work, must continue to pay premiums into the system or forfeit health insurance coverage, with the possible new law to go into effect by next year at the earliest.

According to NHIA statistics, about 160,000 Taiwanese each year discontinue their health insurance to avoid paying premiums, only to resume coverage later. Of this number, about 60,000 discontinue their health coverage again within on year, with over 70 percent of receiving medical treatment before canceling their coverage.

Of those Taiwanese who have lived for an extended period overseas, nearly 30,000 have failed to pay their premiums. Over the past five years, over NT$450 million in outstanding premium payments have accumulated. 

Chiang Shu-ching (江姝靚), deputy head of the underwriting group for the NHIA, said yesterday in an interview with CNA that in accordance with the existing health insurance law, if an a Taiwanese citizen who has discontinued health insurance returns from abroad and has it reinstated, but stays for less than three months and then halts it again, they must still pay three month's worth of premiums. 

However, since June of 2016, all limits on Taiwan's National Health Insurance were abolished, regardless of whether a citizen was living abroad or had missed premium payments. Chiang said that many still game the system by visiting from overseas to restart their insurance and receive medical treatment. They then leave the country and cancel their insurance again, all without paying the minimum three-month premium. 

Chiang said that the new amendment is an attempt at returning fairness to the health insurance system, so that those living abroad must also pay into the system if they want to continue to use it, and not be able to stop and restart it on a whim. 

Chiang said that until the new amendment takes effect, a policy of issuing "lock card" orders for those who attempt to restart their health insurance, but have failed to make premium payments, will probably be implemented by the NHIA by June of this year. 

As for the amendment to stop coverage for delinquent premium payers, Chiang said that it is a priority for the next session of the legislature. Chiang said that if the process goes smoothly, the new law will likely take effect next year.