In a move which aims to deter travellers who visit the country from taking advantage of the health insurance programme to get expensive treatments and then leaving, as of 16 July 2019, South Korea plans to implement a mandatory subscription to the national health insurance programme.
Under the new regime, foreigners – and Koreans with foreign citizenships – who have resided in the country for over six months must enroll in the state healthcare programme and pay monthly premiums. The premiums will be based on an individual’s income and assets, and eligibility for the programme will be dependent on each person’s residential address. If the premium is set below the average of the entire subscriber pool as of November of the previous year, the premium will be determined at the median. In November last year, the average monthly health insurance premium was 113,050 won (US$94.5).
Those who are unable to pay will not only experience limited health insurance benefits, but also a question mark over their visa extension. As a result, many have criticised the scheme, arguing that students will be hit the hardest – and it’s worth noting that the number of international students at universities and graduate schools in South Korea reached 142,205 last year, with students from China making up the biggest proportion.
Although many international students already have private health insurance, these only cost them around 110,000 won (US$94) a year, while the new regulation will see them paying six times as much, at around 678,000 (US$570) a year – a monumental cost considering that many young students would likely not even need healthcare cover this extensive.
As such, the Education Ministry has responded in kind, ensuring that it will make efforts to encourage the health ministry to exclude foreign students from the mandatory subscription.
"The National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) had a 9-billion won surplus in operating the programme for foreigners in 2017. This means that foreigners had insurance-covered treatments less than they could. They hardly have to do with the NHIS' suffering of a deficit," Sung Baek-gil, Senior Director at the Department of Eligibility and Imposition in the NHIS, commented on the new rule.
All things considered, this development could see positive results for South Korea’s economy, if rolled out effectively and with consideration to all those who it will affect. Misjudgement could see South Korea hit with a huge loss of income and expenditure, especially if foreign students no longer find it financially viable to study in the country.