Doubt cast on health insurance plan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am


The administration should set aside its proposed voluntary health insurance scheme because it is being rushed through without enough debate and the new government may simply reject it anyway, a patients' rights group said yesterday.

It plans to submit a letter to the Legislative Council today, saying public discussions on the reform proposal have been too brief and have failed to address patients' concerns about the long-delayed project.

The government planned the scheme to rebalance health care services. The public sector takes care of 90 per cent of patients while employing only 40 per cent of the city's doctors. The insurance scheme was seen as a means of strengthening the regulation and development of private medical insurance and health care services.

Tim Pang Hung-cheong, of the Patients' Rights Association, said: 'We are especially concerned about the risks and the burdens on our patients under the insurance scheme, and whether the package price will be affordable and the coverage reasonable.' The incoming administration's differing views 'means current discussions may be useless if the reform is not carried out'.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok proposed the insurance plan partly to divert patients to the private sector. But incoming chief executive Leung Chun-ying has repeatedly voiced reservations about medical tourism, raising doubts about the private sector's future profitability.

'It may not be necessary for the meetings to go on at this point, especially when there is so much rushing that no real discussion is possible to clear the public's concern,' Pang said. Seven meetings, each two hours long, have been held or are scheduled in a Legco panel to discuss the plan.

Dr Alan Lau Kwok-lam, chairman of the Private Hospital Association, said he was not sure that the next government would want a policy change promoting private hospitals, after Leung's announcement of a zero quota on mainland women giving birth in those hospitals.

Panel chairman Dr Leung Ka-lau conceded that the meetings had been too brief but said the discussions should continue.

Leung, who is also the lawmaker for the medical sector, said: 'The gov- ernment did not provide enough data and information for the discussions. The meetings only touched the surface of many major concerns, such as the ... manpower shortage in the public hospitals.

'But we should not stop the meetings just because of that. At least they can outline some of the public's concerns for further discussion.'

The next meeting is scheduled for Monday. All seven meetings will be finished before July.