Korea will not allow dependents of foreigners to free ride on health insurance

The government has planned to tighten health insurance facilities to prevent foreign customers dependent on health insurance from traveling for free.

For example, officials are considering limiting it to “those who have lived in Korea for six months or more.”

The government has planned to tighten health insurance facilities for the dependents of foreign customers.

According to sources in the Ministry of Health and Insurance and the National Health Insurance Service, policymakers are examining adding conditions including mandatory stay in the country for a certain period to register as dependents of foreign clients in health insurance.

The mandatory stay period could be six months, sources said.

There has been a long-standing controversy over the abuse of the Korean health insurance system by foreigners. Some foreigners have entered Korea, received multiple health services for a short period of time, and left Korea, abusing the country’s health insurance system. The government has amended laws and ordinances several times in recent years to curb such practices.

For example, authorities allowed only foreigners who had been in Korea for six months or more to subscribe to health insurance.

However, the system failed to plug all the loopholes because the dependents of foreign residents, unlike the clients themselves, were exempt from the mandatory period of stay in the country. These dependents are mainly the spouses and children of foreign members, and there is no difference in the conditions for being dependents of Korean or foreign clients. Accordingly, some family members of foreign clients living abroad enter Korea for a short time, receive expensive medical care, and return to their home country.

The state health insurance company has repeatedly modified the system to prevent free rides on health insurance for dependents who can afford to pay insurance premiums. Starting in September, for example, only people earning 20 million won ($1,490) or less can be dependents of members, down from the previous standard of 34 million won. In addition, individuals with a tax base of more than 900 million won or individuals who earn more than 100 million won annually and have assets with a tax base of more than 540 million won will be disqualified as dependents.

However, unlike locals, foreigners’ income and assets are difficult to properly understand, making it easy for them to get a free ride.

So much so that even President Yoon Suk-yeol said during his election campaign in January, “I will solve the problem of foreigners exploiting the insurance system to prevent them from ‘putting a spoon on a well-prepared dinner table.’

In its executive briefing to President Yun last Friday, the Ministry of Health and Welfare also said it would improve standards for foreign dependents.

The MPs have introduced two amendment bills to the National Health Insurance Act to prevent the free movement of foreign dependents. Both bills aim to apply the same standards to dependents, for example, specifying the purpose of their stay and the duration of their stay here.

However, there are some problems in the amendment, as the family members of foreign diplomats and company officials who have recently arrived in Korea will not be able to get insurance benefits if they fall ill within 6 months of their arrival.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Health and Welfare is considering exempting spouses and minor children of foreign nationals from the rule, targeting only their parents, brothers, sisters and older children.

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