The Hong Kong government launched on Monday a three-month public consultation on a voluntary health insurance scheme, Apple Daily reported.
The long-awaited program is expected to help ease the burden on public hospitals by prompting more people to switch to private institutions.
To encourage people to sign up for the insurance, the government will offer some tax benefits for the policyholders.
For a family of three paying an annual premium of HK$16,000, the maximum tax deduction amount will be HK$1,800.
Healthcare personnel and other observers feel the incentive is not strong enough to attract young and healthy people to participate.
According to 2012 estimates by the government, the average annual standard premium of the plan is about HK$3,600, which is 9 percent higher than the average premium of individual hospital insurance products available in the market.
Secretary for Food & Health Dr Ko Wing-man said it is up to the user to determine if the tax break is attractive or not.
For those who have just entered the job market and for seniors without tax exposure, the new scheme might not be attractive. The main target audience of the new product is the middle class, with the tax deduction designed to offset the increases in premiums, the official said.
Ko believes that 70 to 80 percent of the 1.5 million people who have purchased medical insurance products could switch to the new scheme, which could help cut public medical service expenditure by HK$2.8 billion between 2016 and 2040. Meanwhile, the government will pump in HK$4.3 billion to help pay for treatment for about 70,000 “high-risk” patients.
The official hopes the scheme will encourage more people to use private healthcare services, which will help relieve pressure on the public hospital system and shorten the waiting times.
However, it is estimated that by 2040, 85 percent of the total hospitalization days would still fall into public hospitals. That will be just two percentage points lower than the situation prevailing before the launch of the new scheme, the report said, noting that public hospitals would still have to meet the bulk of the healthcare needs.
The proposed new insurance scheme will not offer a No-Claim Bonus. Ko said such bonus is not being offered as the government does not want to encourage people not to file claims just because they want to obtain a premium discount.
As to when the new scheme could be rolled out, Ko said he will lobby the government for an earliest possible launch schedule. He did not give any specific timeframe.
Anthony Lee, president of the Hong Kong Private Hospitals Association, said the tax deduction ceiling of HK$3,600 may not be sufficient. The government should go back to the drawing board to revise the plan, he said.
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