Date
20 October 2017
The Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme seeks to encourage more people to buy their own health insurance, thereby transferring more patients who are willing to pay more money for better service to the private sector. Photo: HKEJ
The Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme seeks to encourage more people to buy their own health insurance, thereby transferring more patients who are willing to pay more money for better service to the private sector. Photo: HKEJ

A surefire way to wreck the voluntary health insurance scheme

In order to redress the over-reliance of the general public on our public health care system, which is already being strained to the limits both in terms of manpower and resources, the Hong Kong government has been studying the feasibility of enhancing the role of the private medical sector since 2008.

After Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took office in 2012, the government stepped up efforts to promote the Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme (VHIS).

The scheme seeks to encourage more people to buy their own health insurance, thereby transferring more patients who are willing to pay more money for better service to the private sector.

In return, they can get tax rebates for their medical expenditures.

However, while the government’s efforts have started to pay off, and the idea of buying one’s own private health insurance rather than relying on public clinics and hospitals is becoming increasingly popular among the public, particularly middle-class families, the Food and Health Bureau on Jan. 9 announced several adjustments to the scheme, which, I found pretty mind-boggling.

Among the adjustments is the decision to remove three important options from the scheme.

These are the coverage of pre-existing illnesses, freedom to transfer one’s insurance policy to another insurer without affecting the premium, and the establishment of a high risk pool (HRP), under which the amount of premium for high-risk individuals such as those who are predisposed to different types of cancer or genetic diseases is capped to make sure they can get insured in the private market.

The removal of these options will definitely undermine the incentive for people to join the VHIS.

Even more astonishing is that at a recent meeting of the Legislative Council’s committee on health services, officials from the Food and Health Bureau were unable to provide a clear explanation on why the government had decided to remove these three fundamental options from the VHIS.

All they were willing to say is that they had met huge backlash from the insurance sector over the HRP, and that they were still working on it.

As far as the other two removed options are concerned, they remained equivocal.

The VHIS is bound to lose its appeal for middle-class families once these three options are removed, and therefore the administration definitely owes the public an explanation as to why it insists on doing so regardless of objections from Legco and the general public.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 27

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

RT/CG

Legislative councilor and head of nursing and health studies in the Open University of Hong Kong

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