Towards universal healthcare

Nation’s healthcare system still has a long ways to go, says World Bank conference.

Viet Nam faces great challenges in achieving universal health insurance by 2014, said health minister Nguyen Quoc Trieu.

At a conference co-organised by the World Bank recently, the minister said that the health insurance system in the country was still underdeveloped with o­nly 44 per cent of the population having health insurance.

"The goal of expanding health insurance to the whole population will be impossible without a comprehensive and overall method," he said.

Health insurance was first introduced in the country over 15 years ago, and the rate of the population with insurance has increased steadily over the years.

There are various types of health insurance in Viet Nam, such as compulsory insurance, voluntary insurance, insurance for poor people.

Increases in the number of health care centres and range of health services for communities has also contributed to the development and popularisation of health care and health insurance.

However, there are a variety of reasons and obstacles that have limited the expansion of health insurance usage to the whole population.

Many business and enterprises have not bought health insurance for their workers, despite Government regulations making it compulsory.

There are also problems in the implementation of health insurance due to inconsistencies and lack of comprehensive guiding documents, especially when it comes to hospital fee policies or the organisation of local health care systems.

Despite greater access to care in many areas, the availability of health care services is also still limited in remote and rural areas, which means fewer health insurance users in those areas.

According to a 2008 World Bank report o­n Financing and Supplying Health Services in Viet Nam, the country’s health insurance system is facing three main challenges: expanding the usage to wider population, developing the services to reduce the people’s own expenses and cutting down other expenses.

New hope

The National Assembly approved a new Law o­n Health Insurance last November, finding that updates to former regulations would help develop the health insurance system to help finance the health care system and also bring more benefits to the people.

The new law stipulates that health insurance will become compulsory for everyone by 2014, but that there will be different policies for different groups. There are 25 different categories for people depending o­n their income levels, and various amounts will be paid for the insurance.

The amount people will have to pay for health insurance each month is 6 per cent of their wages, which is double what was stipulated previously. The national budget will pay wholly or partially the health insurance fees for the poor and underprivileged.

Services covered by health insurance are also to increase as available funds increase. The country’s health care service system also needs to be more developed and expanded to meet with the people’s demand.

In the Politburo’s recent health review, it was suggested that the Government promote the establishment of private and co-operative hospitals and health care centres, and to continue support and investments into State-owned facilities.

This would help increase options available when healthcare needs arise.

Trieu said the Ministry of Health was currently working with relevant agencies to publish guiding documents in order to effectively implement the new law, as well as finding ways to encourage more people to buy health insurance.