Taiwanese living abroad, who have stopped paying their monthly insurance premium to the government-run National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme, are to be barred from enjoying benefits under the scheme, according to a proposal by the National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA).
In addition, the NHIA is proposing an amendment to the National Health Insurance Act that would require Taiwanese citizens — including those who go abroad to study or work but excluding government employees stationed abroad, missing persons, and fishery employees — to continue to pay premiums into the system or forfeit health insurance coverage, with the proposed new law to go into effect by next year at the earliest, reports Taiwan News.
According to NHIA statistics, about 160,000 Taiwanese each year discontinue their health insurance to avoid paying premiums, only to resume coverage later. Of this number, about 60,000 discontinue their health coverage again within one year, with over 70% of them receiving medical treatment before cancelling their coverage.
Of those Taiwanese who have lived for an extended period overseas, nearly 30,000 have failed to pay their premiums. Over the past five years, over NT$450 million (US$15.4 million) in outstanding premium payments have been accumulated.
The National Health Insurance Act stipulates that citizens can apply for suspension of their NHI benefits and stop paying the monthly premiums after they have lived abroad for more than six consecutive months. They are allowed to re-enrol in the programme and receive NHI-funded treatment after they return to Taiwan, but if their stay is less than three months, they have to pay three months’ premiums before suspending their benefits again, the Act states.
However, after the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced plans in 2016 to abolish a card lock mechanism that freezes the NHI cards of people with unpaid premiums, about 50,000 people — nearly 30,000 of whom reside overseas — took advantage of the policy by not paying their premiums while continuing to use NHI-funded resources.
The agency plans to restore the card-lock mechanism to ensure that overseas citizens with unpaid premiums bring their accounts up to date before they can use their card to receive treatment, Ms Chiang Shu-ching, deputy head of the underwriting group for the NHIA, said.
She said until the new legislative amendment takes effect, a policy of barring those who attempt to restart their health insurance but have failed to make premium payments, will probably be implemented by June this year.