by Thanh Hai
HA NOI — The nation is likely to miss proposed targets on ensuring health insurance coverage extends to 75 per cent of the population by 2015 and 90 per cent by 2020.
|A doctor in the northern province of Lai Chau 's Phong Tho District examines an ethnic woman. Further political commitment and financial support are needed to increase health insurance coverage among the poor. — VNA/VNS Photo Duong Ngoc
Work on expanding health insurance in the country's 16 poorest provinces has been slow, and increasing coverage among students, those near poverty and even middle income earners has also lagged behind.
The director of the Health Insurance Department under the Ministry of Health, Tong Thi Song Huong, said 16 out of the country's 63 provinces and cities are facing problems with expanding health cover, of which 14 provinces are in the Cuu Long Delta region and only 2 provinces in the north.
"Sixteen provinces will have to struggle to increase health insurance rates among groups of near-poor, students and middle income earners in an effort to reach targets under the new plan on health insurance that will be submitted for the Government's approval in the coming months," said Huong.
The department's statistics said that health insurance rates in these 16 provinces were between 43-53 per cent, compared to the country's average rate of nearly 64 per cent by the end of 2011.
At a recent meeting with the health ministry and the Viet Nam Social Insurance Agency in Ha Noi, representatives from most of 16 provinces explained that 80 per cent of people living near the poverty line had in the past received health insurance, as their fees were paid by the Government and World Bank under a special project on health in the Cuu Long Delta Region.
However, the health cover rate for people living near poverty rapidly decreased after the World Bank funded project came to an end last June, though Government support now covers 70 per cent of insurance fees.
They said that further political commitment and financial support are needed to increasing health insurance coverage among poor people.
Deputy Director of the Nam Dinh Social Insurance Agency Pham Thanh Trung said health insurance hasn't received adequate attention from the province's sectors, branch authorities and even provincial leaders.
Trung said only 29.7 per cent of students in Nam Dinh had health insurance cards due to lack of support from the provincial leaders and the education sector.
"Local people are unclear or have little awareness about health insurance policies and benefits," said Trung.
"They don't even know where to buy health insurance cards."
Trung suggested that health insurance agencies should be located at commune post offices to make it convenient for local people to learn about or buy health cover.
"Work on health insurance cover should be integrated into the socio-economic and budget targets of each province and city. Health insurance hasn't received adequate involvement from the political system due to weakness in collaboration between health and social insurance sectors in acting as advisors for provincial 's leaders," said Trung.
Speaking at the meeting, Deputy Director of the Hau Giang Health Department Nguyen Cuu Long said that health insurance has reached only 10 per cent of the total 90,000 poor people and about 45 per cent of students in Hau Giang Province due to the province's poor socio-economic conditions and inadequate awareness on health cover among local people.
"Some poor people don't even know that they are eligible for Government support on health insurance," said Long.
He added that low commissions for health insurance agencies and weakness in communication at all levels were also reasons for failure in expanding health insurance.
The country's health insurance coverage had reached more than 25 per cent of 6.4 million people living near the poverty line and 80 per cent of more than 12.8 million students nation-wide by end of 2011, according to the health ministry.
"The large numbers of poor and middle-income earners along with weak health infrastructure at the district and commune levels are the biggest challenges to increasing the health insurance rate in Phu Yen and others provinces in the Cuu Long Delta region," said Deputy Director of the Phu Yen Social Insurance Agency Ho Phuong.
Representatives from Ca Mau and Tay Ninh health departments said provincial leaders should mobilise financial support from locals and enterprises to subsidise more than 20 per cent of health insurance fees for people living near poverty.
Vice Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Xuyen said the health and social insurance sectors would ask provincial leaders to pay more attention and provide further support for health insurance in their provinces.
"Provinces and cities should learn lessons from provinces with high health insurance rates for poor people such as An Giang, where successes have been seen thanks to the strong commitment of leaders and financial support of business community," said Xuyen. — VNS