중앙데일리

Compromise is elusive on health-plan merger

Dec 26,2001
The ruling and opposition parties on Wednesday inched near agreement to temporarily put off the financial merger of the two health insurance plans, which is scheduled to go into effect on New Year's Day.

Agreement would for the time being alleviate the confusion brought on by the opposition Grand National Party's bid this week to nullify the financial merger.

But the parties did not agree on whether to put off the merger by one or three years. The ruling Millennium Democratic Party's chief policymaker, Park Chong-woo, and floor leader, Lee Sang-soo, called for a one-year postponement. Their opposition counterparts, Lee Kang-too, chief policymaker, and Lee Jae-oh, floor leader, sought a three-year postponement.

The difference reflects the ruling party's desire that the merger should go through eventually and the opposition's determination that it should be blocked.

"If the Grand National Party repeals its plan to separately manage the administrative cost of the National Health Insurance Corporation, we will agree to the temporary postponement," said Lee Sang-soo.

"We stand by our position that the finances of the two health insurance plans should be separated as soon as possible," responded Lee Kang-too.

The government has poured an estimated 100 billion won ($76 million) since 1998 into reforming the health insurance plans. Administration of the two plans ?one employment-based and the other regional ?was merged in 1998. Last year the roles of doctors and pharmacists in prescribing and dispensing medicines were legally separated. The entire plan was launched on the premise that the financial merger would be completed.

The problem arises with figuring out how to calculate health-insurance premiums. Policyholders of the regional plan are mostly self-employed or professionals or manual laborers ?people whose incomes may be easily concealed. On the other hand, the incomes of the employment-based scheme are fully transparent.

The government in 1999 put back the financial merger by two years so that it could come up with a unified standard to assess incomes. But attempts to measure the incomes of regional policyholders accurately have been unfruitful. The two parties will meet on Thursday for a final round of negotiations to agree on how long to postpone the merger.

Meanwhile, two parties agreed to pass the revised National Health Promotion Act, which will raise the tobacco tax to 150 won. The increased revenue from the increase, an estimated 660 billion won, will be pumped into the two health insurance plans from 2002 through 2006.



by Kim Jung-ha




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