Two controversial items put on hold in Hong Kong voluntary health insurance plan

Insurers will not have to cover high-risk patients or guarantee policies regardless of a person’s age or condition

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 December, 2016, 9:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 December, 2016, 11:22pm

Two controversial items will be dropped temporarily from the planned voluntary health insurance scheme after resistance from insurers, the health minister confirmed on Friday.

Insurers would not have to cover high-risk patients or guarantee to cover anyone regardless of age or illness.

But Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the government would not “give up” on these two features and would carry on the legislation work in the next phase.

“We realised that guaranteed acceptance and the high-risk pool are the more difficult parts of the voluntary health insurance scheme,” Ko said.

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The idea of the scheme is to reduce the burden on the public health care system by encouraging the middle class to switch to the private sector.

Under the original proposal, all health insurance policies would have to meet 12 minimum requirements to provide consumer protection and sustainability. High-risk coverage was not one of these, but it was necessary to guarantee acceptance for all.

Also dropped temporarily was a requirement that all policies be portable.

While the insurance sector had been supportive on the remaining 10 items, Ko said the easier ones could proceed first and he expected the measures to be in place next year.

“Our current direction will be working with the Insurance Authority, which will release guidelines to the insurance sector to comply with the 10 minimum requirements,” he said.

Now all insurance policies will meet at least 10 minimum requirements
Lawmaker Chan Kin-por

Ko expected it would take at least two to three years to implement coverage for high-risk patients.

Insurance sector lawmaker Chan Kin-por welcomed the decision.

“Now all insurance policies will meet at least 10 minimum requirements, including some important clauses such as coverage of day surgery and standard policy terms,” Chan said.

He said the public would also be encouraged to buy private medical insurance to reduce pressure on public hospitals.

But medical sector lawmaker Dr Pierre Chan said the decision would make the insurance scheme less attractive. “Is the scheme still appealing to the public?” he asked.

Alex Lam Chi-yau, chairman of Hong Kong Patients’ Voices, said the scheme no longer existed without the high-risk coverage, which was a key element of the original plan.

But he said the move had been expected given the objections from the insurance sector.