Hong Kong health care and hospitals

‘No timetable’ for high-risk pool under new insurance plan, Hong Kong health chief says

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan says government to focus on launch of voluntary health insurance scheme for now

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 10:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 10:01am

An arrangement to cover high-risk individuals under Hong Kong’s new voluntary health insurance scheme is still on the table, but the city’s health chief is unable to promise it will be available within the current term of the government.

Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said the government would first focus on the launch of the scheme, which is expected to be rolled out next year.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po revealed in the budget in February that premiums paid for insurance products certified by the scheme would be eligible for tax deduction, with a ceiling of HK$8,000 (US$1,019) per insured person.

“In the first few years, we will focus our work on rolling out the voluntary health insurance scheme,” Sophia Chan said in an interview with the Post and other media late last month.

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The medical insurance scheme was first proposed by the government to relieve the burden on the public sector in the long run.

It has been estimated that around 5 per cent of public hospital inpatients will go to private hospitals for services after the insurance scheme is launched.

But Chan stopped short of pledging whether the government would within this term look into the details for setting up the high-risk pool – a funding arrangement in the original proposal that could allow people with higher health risks, such as chronically ill patients, to purchase hospital insurance.

“It is hard to estimate the difficulty [in introducing the high-risk pool]. At the moment we don’t have a timetable on when it could be done,” she said.

One reason a high-risk pool could not be done was because some people think the government is subsidising private service
Professor Sophia Chan, health secretary

While the government initially expected to spend about HK$4.3 billion (US$548 million) subsidising high-risk patients over a 25-year period, such arrangements were put on hold by the previous government as a public consensus could not be reached.

This meant two of the 12 minimum requirements for health insurance under the scheme, namely guaranteed acceptance for all and portable insurance policies, were dropped temporarily.

Chan said only that the government would look into such a funding arrangement for high-risk individuals after receiving a response from the public to the new insurance scheme.

“We have not given up,” she said. “We will continue to explore the feasibility of a high-risk pool.”

Chan explained that a consensus on whether to subsidise patients with high health risks had not been reached in Hong Kong society.

“One reason a high-risk pool could not be done was because some people think the government is subsidising private service,” Chan said. “But some others also think the money should be spent on public health services.”

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She said public opinion on how the government should allocate resources for health care might change when more people had used health insurance.

Elaine Chan Sau-ho, who is from the insurance sector and is a member of a consultative group on the insurance scheme for the Food and Health Bureau, said the insurance sector did not object to high-risk individuals joining the scheme.

“The government has to think how much [in terms of reserves] would be needed to keep the high-risk pool sustainable,” she said.