The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Thursday it has revised the health insurance system to deal more effectively with increasing cases of its exploitation by foreigners in the country.
The changes aim to deal with a growing phenomenon known as the “healthcare dine and dash” where foreigners pay low insurance premiums and got reimbursed for expensive treatment, including cancer, and leave the country upon completion.
The ministry examined the status of foreigners’ health insurance system from February to March and issued a revision to the health insurance policy to fix the loopholes.
“This plan is expected to make up for the deficiencies in foreigners’ and overseas Koreans' health insurance qualification management and enhance equity between Koreans and foreigners,” the ministry said in a press release.
One of the significant changes will come from the switch from an optional local subscription to a mandatory one.
Currently, foreigners who have lived in the country for more than three months have an option to register for health insurance as a local subscriber. However, the current system has led to pitfalls where foreigners could exploit the healthcare system and leave the country.
From now on, foreigners who have lived in the country for more than six months will be mandated to sign up for health insurance as a local subscriber, the ministry said. Health insurance premiums will be determined based on criteria such as income and property.
Considering the difficulties of determining the correct health insurance premiums for foreigners who do not have income or property, the ministry would apply the average health insurance premium of Korean subscribers to foreigners who belong to this category.
Foreigners with F-5 or F-6 visas will pay a premium that correlates to their level of income and property. The government will lower premiums for refugees and other foreigners here on a humanitarian residence permit.
With the revisions, those on a humanitarian residence permit - who have not qualified for health insurance as a local subscriber - can also sign up as a local subscriber even when they are unemployed, the ministry said.
The government will give additional disadvantages to foreigners who do not pay insurance premiums, by, for instance, putting a limit on the duration of stay or not granting an extension to stay.
The revision will also strengthen documents submitted to verify family ties. The government will consider documents issued abroad only when approved by the issuing country’s foreign ministry.
The government has also toughened the punishment of those who exploit the system, raising the maximal prison term from one to three years and increase fines from 10 million won ($9,300) to 30 million won. Some foreigners have exploited the loopholes in the current system by borrowing or stealing health insurance cards.
Ministry officials said they would also introduce a new reward system for those that report foreigners who exploit the healthcare system.
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