SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Korea Bizwire) – A National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) report submitted to the National Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee on October 18 revealed that from 2013 through September of this year, the NHIS subsidized 18.9 billion won in hepatitis C treatment for foreign nationals.
From 2013 to 2015, annual subsidies ranged from 1.3 to 1.8 billion won, surging to 8.2 billion won in 2016. The trend has trickled over to this year; 5.9 billion has been subsidized as of September.
The reasons behind the spike in subsidies for foreign nationals are the expensive hepatitis C drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni.
One Sovaldi pill sells for 297,000 won, compared to 257,000 for Harvoni. Last May, the two drugs were incorporated into the NHIS subsidy framework, driving the price of both drugs down by 70 percent.
It has been determined that Chinese hepatitis C patients, through a loophole in health insurance policy which grants NHIS coverage to foreign nationals who stay in the country for a minimum of three months, have been buying up the two drugs in bunches. Sovaldi and Harvoni are not sold in China.
A look at the numbers in the NHIS report reveals that 266 Chinese nationals spent 1.28 billion won and received 3.08 billion won in subsidies for hepatitis C medication last year. Through September of this year, 274 had spent 1.32 billion won and received 3.17 billion won in subsidies for purchases of the same drugs. The purchasers were overwhelmingly Chinese; only 20 last year and 27 thus far this year were non-Chinese foreign nationals.
The NHIS’s report shows a loss of 6.2 billion won caused by Sovaldi and Harvoni subsidies over a period of less than two years.
Chinese visitors were also found to be using health insurance coverage to also purchase blood pressure medication at significant discounts (6.54 million won spent, 15.28 million won subsidized last year).
In addition, instances of Chinese temporary residents adding their families as dependents onto their health insurance coverage were reported. By the end of July this year, 773 million won in delinquent health insurance payments were owed by Chinese nationals.
Despite the detailed problems, the NHIS’s position is that any policy modification will be difficult, as South Korean citizens utilize the same system to legally guarantee health insurance for family members abroad and the NHIS has no choice but to give foreigners and citizens equal benefits.