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May 30, 2017

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Row between Taipei City and BHNI over premiums heats up

The row between Taipei City and the Bureau of National Health Insurance (BNHI) over unsettled premiums threatened to explode into a major political storm yesterday as both sides heated up the quarrel.

The BNHI spoke out against the city's vice mayor, Ou Chin-der, who had reacted angrily by pounding on the table after the creditor had the Justice Ministry seize 30 lots of Taipei land Monday over the outstanding premiums.

"The BNHI is the creditor, but has to face the table-pounding criticism from the debtor. We really feel indignant," said the bureau's deputy manager, Lai Chin-hsiang.

He also dismissed the criticism that the BNHI failed to talk to the city government before taking action, revealing that both sides had been negotiating the debts for five or six years.

He said the BNHI had sent 13 letters to the city government over the years concerning the debts, with the former health minister Lee Ming-liang having talked to Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, and other officials from both sides having met many times.

"How can Ma Ying-jeou and Taipei City enjoy any privileges?" said Lai.

"The city officials should have more respect for the law, and be less emotional in their reactions," said Lai.

But Taipei, refusing to recognize the debts, alleged that the BNHI handled outstanding premiums with a double standard.

Owing NT$10.7 billion, Taipei has seen land worth NT$11.7 billion taken into custody, while Kaohsiung has had only land worth NT$2.6 billion seized for a debt of NT$9.9 billion, Ou said.

Ou interpreted the differences in the figures as a sign of a political campaign by the central government against Ma, who was on an official visit in South Korea, although the vice mayor said he would rather not make that kind of association.

Asked if his angry reaction was meant to pave the way for his mayoral campaign, Ou denied it.

National lawmakers and city councilors from Ma's opposition "pan-blue" camp allies did not hide their intentions to blow up the conflict, likening the central government's move to that of the violence of a loan shark.

Kuomintang Legislator Chen Shuei-saint suggested counter measures.

He said the city government may offer to replace the 30 lots seized with other city land currently occupied by central government bodies, such as the Legislature, and the National Police Administration.

The central government would then have big trouble because the offices would have to be evicted if the land were impounded, Chen said.

If the BNHI wants to auction off the 30 plots of land, Chen said the city could offer other land where public facilities stand — such as the Sungshan Airport.

"The central government can go ahead with the auction if it has the guts," said Chen.

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