South Korea is preparing to implement a mandatory subscription of the national health insurance program for expats who stay for six months or longer in Korea.
From July 16, foreigners and Koreans with foreign citizenships who resided in the country for over six months must enroll for the state healthcare program and pay monthly premiums. The change aims to prevent foreigners from taking advantage of the health insurance program to get expensive treatments and leave the country.
Foreigners will receive eligibility for the health insurance program depending on the address of their residency. They can pay insurance premiums individually.
It would be a big burden for students from developing countries"
The premiums will be based on their income and asset. If the premium is set below the average of the entire subscribers 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 ($94.5).
An overdue payment of insurance premiums will limit not only health insurance benefits but visa extension.
"The National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) had a 9 billion won surplus in operating the program 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, said.
South Korea's new initiative for long-stay expats comes a short while after the Thai government announced a similar but more costly healthcare insurance requirement for its expatriate community.
The revised rule will also hit the country's 140,000 international students. While to date most international students have used private health insurance policies that cost in the region of 100,000-110,000 won (US$85-$94) a year, the new rule will require them to join the state insurance system, which can cost around 678,000 won (US$570) per year.
The Korea Times reported that universities have called for an exemption for students, with an online petition on the Cheong Wa Dae receiving over 30,000 signatures.
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 largest number, followed by Vietnamese and Mongolian students.
According to one report, around 100,000 of these students will be affected by the new rule.
"It would be a big burden for students from developing countries," a university official said in the online petition, adding that even though the state insurance system offers greater benefits than private policies, most young students wouldn't need extensive health care.
The government was searching for a solution together with the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education, Baek-gil said.
"In Germany, foreign students pay about 120,000 won insurance premium per month. We will find out how much premiums other countries charge on foreign students," he added.
The Education Ministry said it will ask the health ministry to exempt foreign students from the mandatory subscription to the national health insurance system.
Most international students in the country use a private insurance program mediated through their universities and pay about 10,000 won in monthly insurance premiums.