Do the right thing

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Do the right thing

The government’s ambition to revamp the current system of paying for national health insurance collapsed after 18 months. Minister of Health and Welfare Moon Hyung-pyo announced Thursday that the government will not come up with a plan to improve the way it levies health insurance fees on subscribers within this year. After the announcement, public criticism arose that the government decision was aimed at helping people who earn high salaries because they were going to have to pay more.

Despite the Blue House’s flat denial of backpedalling on its earlier promise to mend the unbalanced payment system, few believed its explanation.

The government cited a lack of data and discussion as the reason for postponing such bold reforms. That’s nothing but an excuse. Many citizens who were shocked by the government’s botching of income tax reforms last year will not be happy about the sudden U-turn.

The premium payment system for the national health insurance is too old and screwed up to take a political approach to fixing it. It needs a total overhaul. The insurance system for non-salaried workers was fixed in 1988 and the system for salaried workers in 1977. Due to the different ways of levying insurance premiums on those who are self-employed and those who earn salaries, it has long been under attack for double standards. The government decision to levy insurance premiums based on the value of unemployed and self-employed people’s real estate and cars led retired workers and jobless people to pay more than twice the money they would pay if they were on salaries. Over 50,000 retirees in their 50s are caught in this trap. Even people on the poverty line had to pay tens of thousands of won in insurance premiums, as seen in the tragic suicide of a poor family who could not afford to pay a 50,000 won ($46) premium each month. That’s not social justice. About 57,000 complaints are filed each year by citizens. That’s a shameful portrait of our national health system.

In principle, it is right to levy insurance premiums according to peoples’ incomes. But because of many obstacles, a reform committee offered an incremental solution, including a lowering of premiums for subscribers’ properties and the cancellation of a poll tax-type income assessment for the low-income class. The committee plans to let high-salary earners and their dependents pay more. If the government pushes ahead with the initiative, it will allow six million self-employed households to enjoy cheaper premiums, while raising the premiums for high-salary earners. After that, the government can levy insurance premiums according to subscribers’ income over the long haul.

The government must listen to complaints from 7.59 million self-employed households. A majority of them are owners of mom-and-pop shops and daily laborers - the underprivileged in our society. The government must not delay the reform. It must persuade high-salary earners to pay more, which would naturally contribute to social justice. Then, the president’s approval rating will rebound - because she will be doing the right thing, not the politically expedient thing. And political circles must not take political advantage of it.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 30, page 30

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