Shortcomings in voluntary medical insurance must be resolved before this option can be made the solution to the city's health care financing, a senior health official has said. Voluntary insurance is particularly popular among people earning at least HK$25,000 a month, with 82 per cent support, according to a government report released yesterday. But Sandra Lee Suk-yee, permanent secretary for food and health, warned that this option had many shortcomings. For example, some voluntary insurance schemes excluded pre-existing conditions and did not guarantee policy renewal, according to submissions during a public consultation on the issue. 'It was difficult for individuals who already had certain illnesses such as chronic diseases to get insured, either because of exclusion or the higher level of premium charged,' the report said. Ms Lee said the government had to address these problems before working out a final option. She pointed to differences of opinion between employees and employers as another potential source of controversy. The report said that while employees wanted their bosses to share in paying medical contributions under a mandatory scheme, employers had reservations. Tse Hung-hing, president of the Medical Association, said the government should focus the next round of discussions on voluntary insurance. 'There should be incentives to encourage people to buy their own insurance,' he said. 'For example, the premiums should be made tax- deductible and the government should subsidise the premiums of needy patients.' Dr Tse said that if it subsidised the premiums, the government could tighten regulation of the industry. Ho Yin-ming, chairman of the Patients' Alliance on Health Care Reform, said many chronically ill patients wanted the government to increase health care spending. 'We don't think voluntary insurance should be the solution because the premiums will only go up and up while the population ages,' Mr Ho said. 'The government should make those who can afford it pay more.' Figures from the Federation of Insurers show that the number of individual medical insurance policies rose from 1.27 million in 2002 to 1.76 million last year.