Pushing health reform forward

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Pushing health reform forward

The Health and Welfare Ministry has again reversed its plan for redesigning public health insurance and has said it will go ahead with reforms this year instead of putting them off indefinitely. Scared by the public backlash over heavier year-end tax payments due to changes in the tax code, the ministry announced that it would delay the set of changes to the national health insurance policy, including hikes in premiums for higher-income brackets. Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung in his speech to the National Assembly criticized the government’s backtracking on reforms and said the party will cooperate if the government comes up with a good outline. Emboldened by the ruling party’s support, the ministry decided to proceed with its schedule.

The public is obviously disappointed by the ministry’s disoriented way of carrying out its work. A taskforce of experts has worked on the reform outline for 18 months, but the government attempted to throw it out to save the Blue House from further public disgruntlement over heavy taxes.

The president’s approval rate has fallen to its lowest-ever since the tax code fiasco that led to higher year-end tax bills. By doing so, the ministry has lost confidence from the public and its expert group.

After the shameful mistakes, national health insurance reform is back on the agenda. The people already agree on the need to change the complicated double premium system. The restructuring is necessary to sustain the public health insurance system and provide better health care for the people. It must leave out political factors and stick to the purpose of improving the public health system.

Since it is on the reform agenda, the government should not stop after making minor changes in the premium structure. It must change the entire framework of insurance policy for individuals who are not subsidized by their employers. Because their insurance premiums are based on real estate and car assets, self-employed or unemployed people and senior citizens pay higher premiums than subsidized subscribers. These loopholes must be fixed so that levies are directly related to the income levels of subscribers with higher earnings.

The dependants of high-income earners and those receiving more than 20 million won ($18,300) a year through generous pension plans, like those of government employees, teachers and veterans, should also be subject to health insurance contributions. The national health insurance scheme must be reborn as a fairer and more sustainable program for all people.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 5, Page 30

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