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[Newsmaker] All foreign residents required to enroll in National Health Insurance

Foreign nationals without employer insurance who are staying six months or longer in South Korea are required to enroll in the country’s National Health Insurance Service starting in July, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Until now, enrollment in the program was optional for those without employer insurance. Visitors were eligible to enroll if they stayed longer than three months.

Marriage immigrants and international students enrolled in degree programs will be covered by the state insurance plan from the day of their alien registration, the ministry noted. 

Under the revised law, which comes into effect July 16, foreigners not covered under employer insurance plan will be subject to state insurance premiums equivalent to the average amount paid by Korean nationals, which is around 110,000 won ($93) per month. 

For permanent residents and marriage immigrants, the cost may be adjusted according to the insured person’s financial status. But for those whose financial status cannot be documented, the average fee will be charged.

For degree students, the monthly premium has been halved to 56,530 won. Religious workers, refugees and humanitarian residence permit holders will also pay reduced premiums.

Those with insurance from their home countries may apply for exemption.

Failure to pay or delayed payment may lead to disadvantages when extending one’s stay or applying for re-entry.

This change ensures that foreigners get the same medical benefits and services as Koreans, a Health Ministry official told The Korea Herald. It also seeks to eliminate a loophole in the system where foreigners could permanently leave the country after receiving costly medical treatment covered by the state health insurance plan.

While the proposal to amend the law was first drafted last June at the 40th government administration review meeting, the Education Ministry briefed universities on the matter for the first time last Tuesday, only a week before the legislation notice and feedback period ends this coming Wednesday.

Some university officials are concerned that the state insurance premium is a big hike from private insurance programs, some of which provide coverage for foreign students for as little as 10,000 won per month.

An online petition against the policy change on the official Blue House website, posted on Thursday, has garnered 34,413 signatures as of 5 p.m. Sunday.

But the Health Ministry says state health care and private insurance are fundamentally different in purpose. Jung Yoon-soon, head of the ministry’s health care policy department, told The Korea Herald that payment of state health insurance premiums is how universal health care is achieved. The Korea National Health Insurance Service offers a much wider range of benefits than private plans, which can complement the state program depending on individual health needs, he added.

In response to concerns over subjecting students to the costlier state insurance program, one Education Ministry official said the ministry plans to carve out exemptions for students with help from the Health Ministry. The Health Ministry said it had yet to receive an official statement from the Education Ministry but that it was open to a review.

By Kim Arin (