Author’s note: ‘Coming to Korea’ posts are aimed at the wonderful readers who are either brand new to Korea or learning about Korea from their home country. Do you have a question about Korea? Do a quick search of the blog first, then contact me!
A reader recently e-mailed me, asking about health insurance in Korea. It’s something that you don’t think about until you need it – and by then it might be too late to use it.
The very first thing to know is that it’s a very standard, stable system that covers the majority of necessary costs. That health care costs are already low to begin with makes it that much more affordable. The system makes the American system look like something out of the 18th century. In any case, the place to start is the official one: the National Health Insurance Corporation at http://www.nhic.or.kr/portal/site/eng/
. It’s an excellent site that’s easy to navigate, easy to read in browsers other than Internet Explorer, and offers easy-to-understand information.
The insurance benefits can be found at http://www.nhic.or.kr/english/insurance/insurance05.html
. In essence, you’ll pay a percentage of the expenses (30%-60% depending on the type of institution you visit). There isn’t a specific breakdown of costs on the website, but from personal and anecdotal experience, those costs are a fraction of what they would be back in the USA. Ask a Korean’s excellent post
covers a few more of the basics and the system’s history.
A few anecdotes and notes:
- At pharmacies (약국, yak-guk), most non-prescription medicine comes in a two- or three-day supply, and costs 2,000-4,000 won ($2-$4 USD) even without insurance. Tell the pharmacist what ails you (bonus points if you can do it in Korean, though quite a few understand medical English). You’ll likely be in and out while someone from the US is still comparing two boxes of pills.
- Procedures that are considered ‘voluntary’ aren’t covered by insurance. This includes, but isn’t limited to fatigue, hair loss, freckles, warts, acne, impotence, snoring, plastic surgery, LASIK / LASEK surgery, and so on.
- Insurance benefits are the same for Koreans and foreigners.
- The coverage is only good on Korean soil. Traveling to another country in Asia? You’ll want to get insurance based on where you go and how long you’ll be there.
- Lingering maladies can get expensive, there are a number of ‘secondary’ insurance programs and products available within the Korean market. Note that not many foreigners use these services, so the amount of English is understandably limited.
- Private clinics and hospitals do NOT accept the state-provided coverage – be prepared to pay out of pocket for services from those facilities. Also, insurance won’t cover injuries sustained during criminal or deliberate actions. Duh, I believe.
- While the name won’t ring a bell for newer expats, Expat Jane described her positive experience from 2006, and I’ve every reason to believe things haven’t changed much since then.
To enroll, your employer will take your Alien Registration Card (your Korean ID) to the nearest office to enroll you. It’s likely in your contract that you’ll pay 50% of the premium, so that will be taken out of your paycheck automatically. Note that you can’t begin the process to get insured until you have an ARC. You also can’t get a phone without an ARC, so get it started quickly.
In case you’re wondering how much you’re paying for the insurance, the short answer is look at your contract
. The official source
says as of 2010, it’s 5.33% of your salary, of which you pay half and your employer pays half. Your share, assuming everything is calculated correctly, is 2.665%. If you make a salary of 2.2 million won a month, about 58,630 won should automatically come out of your paycheck to pay the health insurance premium.
Now, a couple things to watch out for. If your employer doesn’t ask for your ARC to register you, you are probably not covered. That’s always awkward, especially when money is coming out of your paycheck to pay for it. The cause of that can range from neglect to an intentional omission – some hagwon bosses can’t be bothered. The simple solution is to head into the nearest office with your ARC and register yourself (find the closest one on NHIC’s website
or call an English customer service hotline for help – 02-390-2000). Either way, you should receive a paper booklet that shows you’re registered. It’s a good idea to bring it with you (it confirms your eligibility and gives), but the hospital / office can look it up based on your ID.
Readers, what has your experience been with the NHIC? At hospitals, clinics, etc.? Have you looked into secondary insurance programs?
© Chris Backe – 2011
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