Health insurance for all

(VOV) - Vietnam aims to extend health insurance coverage to 75 percent of its total population by 2015, and to more than 90 percent by 2020.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) has submitted a draft project on “health insurance for all” to the Government. The aim is to dramatically raise the number of participants, expand available healthcare services, and reduce expenses. But many challenges remain.

The ministry’s roadmap for the project implementation identifies three key issues: the number of participants, the scheme’s benefits, and increasing payments from health insurance funds.

What Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Kim Tien is still worried about is the willingness of citizens to take part in the health insurance scheme when they have to pay higher fees for healthcare services not up to par. Check-up procedures, she says, are still cumbersome while there is a limit to the rights of insurance holders.

Currently, around 64.7 percent of the population are covered by the health insurance scheme.

Tong Thi Song Huong, head of the MoH’s Health Insurance Department, agrees that it’s difficulty to achieve the health insurance target when not all compulsory subjects are covered. Huong says Vietnam’s health insurance scheme has been in effect for 20 years. As for some countries like the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Thailand, it has taken them 36 years to ensure “health insurance for all”.

At present, more than 30 percent of citizens are not involved in the health insurance scheme, even though most of them are farmers, students, and free labourers in difficult circumstances.

By far, only 27 percent of those living under the poverty line have rechoeived health insurance cards, either funded by the State or local budgets (70-90 percent).

Huong says that the draft project proposes covering half the value of health insurance cards for students and 30 percent for ethnic minority people and other residents in mountainous areas.

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World health experts maintain that with 64.9 percent of the population currently holding health insurance cards, the “health insurance for all” target is not far from reach.

At a recent meeting with representatives from relevant ministries and agencies, the Health Minister admitted that elderly health insurance card holders sometimes have to wait long hours for their check-ups, even from 5AM to 11AM, and two or three patients also have to share a single bed.

However, she said the seriously ill and extremely poor are not well aware of the virtue of health insurance cards. The individual payment for each card is just small potatoes compared to the state subsidy worth millions of Vietnam dong.

At the 63rd session of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, Minister Tien proposed the level of health insurance payment at VND550,000 per person, which, she said, is comparatively reasonable in a broader sense when one needs expensive medicines for treatment in hospital.