Crisis, Taiwanese Now Enjoy Health Care for All
By Mark Litke
T A I P E I, Taiwan, Oct. 25
— For generations, Taiwanese have gone to the Pao-An Temple to pray to the
gods of healing — and unfortunately for many, it was the only health
insurance they had.
Lynn Jiang, an
unemployed law student, just underwent hip-replacement surgery fully
covered by national insurance.
Retiree Han Yun
Peng is about to have a coronary bypass, also fully covered.
These days in
Taiwan, whatever the treatment, whether with modern or traditional
medicine, Taiwanese will get it — and get it cheaply.
Ten years ago,
if Taiwanese were old, poor or jobless and got sick, they were in trouble.
"Today, you no
longer hear these stories," said Dr. Hong-Jen Chang, who heads Taiwan's
national health insurance program.
only a decade ago, it is already widely praised and envied.
citizen pays 20 U.S. dollars per person, per month," Chang said. "They can
go to any doctor, any hospital they want. They pay, on the average, two
U.S. dollars [and] a maximum of about 10 U.S. dollars each visit. And we
don't have a waiting list."
Taiwan's prosperity, its health-care system was in crisis in the 1990s.
Half the population was uninsured. Medical costs were rising. People were
When that anger
peaked in the middle of a national election, it forced the government to
finally take action.
leadership saw the opportunity," said Tsung-Mei Cheng, an international
healthcare specialist. "They seized it boldly and they went ahead with
set up a single, government-run insurance company, set monthly premiums
based upon ability to pay, and set limits on the costs of all treatments
Lynn Jiang can
now meet with a specialist once a month, get X-rays, blood tests and a
month's worth of medicine.
It costs the
government about $400, and costs Lynn about $24
Bumps in the Road
As good as it
all sounds, Taiwan's program does have its problems and a lot of
challenges in the years ahead.
now complain about having too many patients and not enough time for them.
has also had to raise premiums — by only a few dollars so far, but it
sparked angry reactions.
the insurance program will need close monitoring and adjustments to keep
it healthy, but he's convinced it's here to stay.
So is heart
patient Peng, who likes to brag a little.
"I think the
Taiwanese people now can get good medical care — more than American
people," he said.
Perhaps all that praying to gods of healing in Taiwan has helped.