Foreigners who stay longer than six months in Korea will have to subscribe to the national health insurance from this month mandatorily. However, activists here say that the new regulation is a terrible law that raises barriers for foreigners to join the health insurance plan while maintaining the country's stance on migrant discrimination.
The Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea (JCMK) released a statement Thursday, saying, "Before the revision of insurance plans for foreigners, JCMK and other immigrant organizations had expressed objections several times through statements and ministerial inquiries."
The group noted that the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has also recommended Korea to improve its health insurance system, as it racially discriminates foreigners by making them pay a higher premium than Koreans
It then claimed that the Ministry of Health and Welfare ignored all such statements and pushed ahead with the revised program.
"There is a problem with the proposed conditions for the mandatory health insurance subscription by foreigners," JCMK said.
"For instance, the amended law allows Korean employees to be covered by their work health insurance plan and to change to regional insurance system from the very next day of their job termination," it said. “For foreigners to join the regional health insurance system, however, they have to live in Korea for at least six months and register as a foreigner with the authorities concerned.”
The group argued that such difference is discriminating foreigners.
JCMK also claimed that the clause that restricts stay for foreigners who are delinquent on their health insurance premiums does not only show that the government is not interested in foreigners' health rights, but indicates that they plan to use health insurance as a means of controlling the stay of a foreigner.
"Foreigners who face the greatest difficulties due to the change of the system are migrant workers working in suburban areas who are not allowed to join the work health insurance plan because individuals, not business corporations, hired them," the group said. "According to a National Health Insurance Service report, about 40 percent of immigrants who reported alien registration or residence were uninsured, and most of them work in suburban areas for individuals such as farmers or fishermen."
Even if migrant workers join the regional health insurance plan, it is unlikely they will have time to go to the hospital, and even less likely migrant workers will benefit from the programs, it added.
JCMK stressed that the Ministry of Employment and Labor, which should have looked into such matters, did not do its job as it was not involved in amending the bill.
"The health insurance system should not be a tool for discrimination, exploitation, and control," the group said. "We urge the government to listen to migrant workers’ cries to rectify the new regulation."