Critics blast Taiwan national health insurance premium hike

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The opposition Democratic Progressive Party Tuesday blasted a government plan to raise national health insurance premiums while letting the Taipei City Government off the hook for its debt repayments to the system.
The Department of Health presented a plan Monday demanding supplementary insurance premiums from citizens earning more than NT$180,000 a year from extra income such as rent and stock dividends. The individuals qualifying for the new measures will have to pay an extra 1.8 percent as what the government calls a supplementary premium.
The new program has been dubbed the 1.5-generation health insurance reform plan while waiting for a more thorough second-generation review of the country’s troubled national health insurance system.
The system’s deficit for last year has been estimated at about NT$27 billion, and officials warned it would more than double by the end of 2009.
One of the elements in the new package is that the central government will take complete responsibility for local governments’ debts to the system. Because Taipei has amassed a shortage of NT$29.4 billion, more than half the total of NT$54.4 billion, critics saw the change as a politically motivated concession to the Kuomintang-ruled capital.
The DPP said that forcing the Taipei City Government to pay its debt to the insurance system was sufficient to make up for its shortage, and making the average citizen pay would be unnecessary.
The DPP also faulted the government for relying on tax filings to levy the supplementary premiums. Using this method, only honest law-abiding taxpayers would be subject to the new rules, leaving tax evaders, land owners, major corporations and people active in the underground economy unscathed, DPP lawmakers said.
The government argued that the changes would only lead to higher premiums for a minority of wealthier citizens. About 10 percent of wage earners, or 2.2 million people, will have to pay more, 27 percent or 6 million will see a cut in their premiums, while nothing will change for the rest, said Chu Tzer-ming, the director of the Bureau of National Health Insurance.
Mayor Hau Lung-bin rejected the DPP criticism, saying the original design of the health insurance system had been unfair to the larger cities in the first place. The 1.5 generation plan redressed the situation, he told reporters.
The new health insurance plan has met with protests from various levels of society, including entertainers and campaigners for health care reform. Artists’ associations argued that a lot of minor entertainers survived on extra income, and would be unfairly hit if the new plan went ahead. Medical reform alliances condemned the new system as a thinly disguised tax hike.
The 1.5 generation plan still needs approval from the Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan.