A health insurance loopholeCheap health insurance in Korea is being exploited by overseas residents, as well as foreigners, who have resided in Korea. Foreigners or emigrated Koreans are entitled to individual state insurance as long as they have resided in Korea for more than six months. The residence requirement was extended to six months from the previous three months in December to toughen the criteria.
Their premium rate does not differ from the average 113,050 won ($95) every unsalaried Korean pays a year for national insurance coverage. Their medical expenses in 2018 reached a whopping 205.1 billion won. The individual insurance policy system needs a fix to address the widening deficit from loopholes and inefficiency.
What causes the biggest problem is Koreans living overseas for a long period of time. They do not tell the National Health Insurance that they are leaving when they depart Korea. Their entitlement is suspended a month after they leave the country, but is revived as soon as they return. Students studying abroad or long-term travelers pose a lesser problem, but permanent overseas residents or citizens are no different from Korean nationals on paper if they do not report their residency to the authorities.
There is a bigger loophole. Premiums for non-employee health policies are set on the first day of every month. Therefore, if a person enters the country on the second day of the month and leaves within the month, they do not have to pay a cent for the coverage.
Such free-ride medical benefits for Koreans living abroad are even posted on social media. According to Democratic Party Rep. Jeong Choon-sook, there were 104,309 Koreans last year — or 228,381 over the last three years — who enjoyed such health care benefits in Korea.
They used up 42 billion won of public health funds. A Korean in his 50s, who is living in a foreign country, had a liver treatment during his eight-day visit to Korea, which cost the country over 10 million won.
Even if the authorities force them to pay the premium, many of them pay up to a month’s premium — about 13,000 won a month — at most, and leave the country. The health authority must come up with more efficient measures to confirm the residential status of Koreans living overseas in order to not waste government budgets.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 21, Page 30