No 'Outs' in Health 'In'surance


May 17, 2019

No ‘Outs’ in Health ‘In’surance


Recent reports state that from July 16th onwards, it will be compulsory for all foreigners, including students, to sign up for the state health insurance system if they stay in Korea for longer than 6 months. Hence, the burden to pay for health insurance rose from 100,000KRW per year to 678,000KRW per year, almost 7 times its original cost. That’s a significant increase for an average college/university student. It’s a questionable move by the government considering the fact that they’ve been trying to increase the number of foreign students studying in Korea. Apparently, the root of the issue dates back to 2012.


1. The issue

According to a Chosun News article from 2018 titled “외국인 건강보험 적자, 작년 2000억 돌파”, Foreigner Health Insurance Deficit has constantly been rising from 77.8 billion KRW in 2012 to 200 billion KRW in 2017. The main reason behind the deficit was that foreigners would receive the benefits of health insurance and after the treatment, the patient would immediately return back to his/her country. For instance, patient A could be paying for the health insurance of 100,000 KRW for a year and receive treatment worth 500,000 KRW. As soon as patient A is treated, he/she returns back home and a deficit worth 400,000 KRW arises. Similar cases have become an issue in Korea where some people would come to take advantage of the health insurance system. Tuberculosis treatment, for example, is a common disease that can be treated for free even if you are a foreigner without health insurance. In fact, Tuberculosis patients increased from 791 patients in 2007 to 2940 patients in 2016. Even though there was a decrease in Korean nationals diagnosed with Tuberculosis, there was an increase in international patients. This increase in sick patients has caused both health and financial concerns. 


The current National Health Insurance policy allows foreigners who have stayed in Korea for longer than 3 months to decide whether to sign up for it or not. Compared to countries such as the UK, where foreigners not from EU are qualified after 6 months, and Japan (1 year), Korea’s standards seem to be too lenient. In fact, Korean students who study overseas fear to be sick, and stay away from healthcare, as they are often not insured. Hence, it seems that the government has added that 6-month buffer time before the compulsory payment.


2. The disagreement

While this seems to be the reason behind the decision of the government, it is evidently unpopular among the international public in Korea. A current petition is ongoing, where more than 62,000 have signed for the withdrawal of the compulsory insurance policy. A university faculty member in charge of foreign students in Korea has raised the issue of the previously undiscussed policy. This faculty member expressed his regret over the proceeding of this policy without being discussed with members related to this issue. In fact, during the announcement of this policy, the faculty member asked why it wasn’t discussed before the proceeding of the policy, and the answer that he received from the management was that “last year’s health insurance deficit was 200 billion KRW”.


These are the 3 main points that he/she expressed regret upon:


Firstly, while many foreign students sign up for health insurance in private companies, the new policy makes it compulsory to sign up for the National Health Insurance Service. This means that foreign students who have difficulties in making a bank account due to nationality (ex. Ethiopian, Iranian) would have to visit the bank in person every month. Hence, there are concerns about the feasibility of this policy.


Secondly, compared to health insurance from companies, the National Health Insurance is too expensive. While it is already difficult for foreign students to find a job in Korea, he believes an increase of more than 6 times its original cost puts a burden to many foreign students. In truth, many of the students who come to Korea to study are not financially stable. Additionally, the punishment set for not paying for the insurance such as confiscation and limited Visa extension is too harsh and may, in turn, lead to an increase in illegal immigration.


Lastly, the 6-month time for eligibility of the insurance begins on the date of arrival in Korea. However, this seems to disclaim the fact that it takes 2weeks to as long as a month to receive an Alien Registration Card. Hence, there is a lack of understanding of this period of waiting.


3. Final thoughts

It seems to me that the issue of Health Insurance deficit has always been a problem because of the minority of people taking advantage of the system. Since most people potentially are more likely to be diagnosed with a chronic illness in their later ages, international students who are generally healthy during their time of study are at a disadvantage. While universities are trying to bring in more foreign students, this change seems to be a step backward. Though it may not be a deciding factor, this increase may cause unhappiness in this group. Yet at the same time, is there any fair solution for such a great deficit?

I am curious about how the international community in Korea perceives of this current situation. Please leave any opinion or corrections you may want to share. The current petition is still in process, and you can be a part of this petition by going into the petition section of the Blue House webpage in Korean.





Life of an international student in Korea


Hi! My name is Inku and this is my blog for foreigners willing to study in Korea. A little something about myself, I am a Korean who studied in Indonesia for 12 years and in Singapore for another 7 years. Then, I came back to Korea to complete my university here. Currently, I'm studying at Underwood International College (UIC) in Yonsei University. Being overseas for almost my whole life, I understand the struggles of international students living in Korea. Luckily, thanks to my ethnic background and familiarity with the country's culture, I could find my way of adjusting to life in Korea. In this blog, I want to share with you my information that international students need so that you know what to expect from studying in Korea and to prepare and adjust.