Korea does not allow foreign dependents to ride for free on health insurance

The government plans to tighten health insurance benefits for dependents of foreign health insurance subscribers to prevent them from getting free travel.

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

The government plans to tighten the conditions for health insurance benefits for dependents of foreign health insurance subscribers.

According to sources at the Ministry of Health and Insurance and the National Health Insurance Service on Wednesday, policymakers are looking into adding conditions, including mandatory living in the country for a certain period, to register as dependents of foreign health insurance subscribers.

The period of mandatory stay is likely to be six months, the sources said.

Controversy has long raged about foreigners exploiting the Korean health insurance system. Some foreigners have entered Korea, received many health services in a short period of time, and left Korea, abusing the nation’s health insurance system. The government has revised laws and decrees several times in recent years to prevent such practices.

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

However, the system fails to close all the loopholes, since the dependents of foreigners, unlike the subscribers themselves, are exempt from the mandatory period of stay in the country. These dependents are mostly spouses and children of foreign subscribers, and there are no differences in the conditions of being a dependent of Korean or foreign subscribers. Accordingly, some family members of foreign subscribers who live abroad enter Korea for a short time, receive expensive medical services, and return to their countries.

The state health insurance company has revised the system several times to prevent free health insurance from dependents who can afford to pay insurance fees. Since September, for example, only people who earn less than 20 million won ($1,490) or less can become dependent on subscribers, sharply down from the previous criteria of 34 million won. In addition, people with estates with a tax base of more than 900 million won, or those who earn more than 10 million won a year and have estates with a tax base of more than 540 million won, will be disqualified as dependents.

Unlike locals, however, it is difficult to accurately understand foreigners’ income and assets, making it easier 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 health ministry also said it would improve standards for foreign dependents.

Lawmakers introduced two bills to amend the National Health Insurance Act to prevent foreign dependents from being idle. Both bills aim to apply the same standards to dependents, such as determining the purpose of the stay and the period of residence here.

However, the revision also has some problems, as family members of foreign diplomats and company employees who have just come to Korea cannot receive insurance benefits if they fall ill within six months of arrival.

Accordingly, the sources said the health ministry is considering exempting the spouses and minor children of foreigners from the rule, which only applies to their parents, siblings and adult children.

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