My Take

The government is a social welfare department for the rich

The proposed voluntary health insurance scheme has been hijacked by the insurance companies, who get the low-risk clients while leaving the expensive high-risk people to the public health sector

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2016, 10:54pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 December, 2016, 9:20am

Sometimes you almost wish the government were openly in collusion with big business. That would make some of their decisions more understandable rather than being the outcome of cowardice or stupidity.

Take the proposed voluntary insurance scheme, which aims to relieve pressure on public health services by channelling more patients to the private sector. The idea is to subsidise people to buy private health insurance policies.

But who are the people most likely to use up most public resources? It’s those with chronic or pre-existing conditions, and those who are old or ageing.

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

Well, would you be surprised that under lobbying pressure from the powerful insurance sector, the government has just agreed insurers would not have to cover all of those people, that is, the high-risk patients or guarantee to cover anyone regardless of age or illness. In other words, insurers would continue to pick and choose low-risk clients, leaving those with high risks to the public health sector. Those who can’t get coverage now won’t get coverage under the scheme. There will also be no requirement for policies to be portable.

But Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man has put on a brave face, saying the government is only dropping those requirements and would work to include them in the next phase in a few years. Good luck with that. Watching the television news has been instructive. Insurance sector lawmaker Chan Kin-por was beaming in front of the cameras. Why wouldn’t he? The scheme as it is means free money straight into the pockets of insurers.

But medical sector lawmaker Dr Pierre Chan and Alex Lam Chi-yau, chairman of Hong Kong Patients’ Voices, looked grim. It has been total victory for the insurance sector. Without high-risk coverage, there is no reason for the scheme.

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It would have made more sense if the government just dropped the scheme completely. As it is, we are witnessing a repeat of the Mandatory Provident Fund more than a decade later. No one will ever manage to retire on MPF, but it has been free money from heaven for the banks and fund companies.

The health insurance scheme will be another big government subsidy, not to individuals, but to the insurers. You think the poor exploit our welfare system? The whole government is a social welfare department for the rich.