Vietnamese lawmakers agreed that health insurance should be made compulsory at the 21st session of the National Assembly Standing Committee on September 11.

"Compulsory membership would help increase the number of insured people, particularly agricultural labourers and forest workers," said Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien.

Tien said that changing from voluntary to compulsory payments would help increase funds which, in turn, would increase benefits for patients.

Tien said the health insurance fund would be further supported by plans to increase insurance fees from the current 4.4 percent of the minimum wage to 4.5-5 percent or even 6 percent. In addition, a part of examination and treatment fees would also be used to boost the health insurance fund.

According to the draft of the revised health-insurance law, health insurance members would be divided into five groups. This would cover labourers, employers, a group subsidised by the social insurance agency, groups subsidised fully and partly by the Government; and members who pay their own health-insurance fees.

Twenty of the 52 articles of the health-insurance law would be revised, including important articles relating to insurance subjects, participation, benefits and the fund management.

Deputies said the revised law aimed to expand health insurance coverage to 70 percent of the population by 2015 and 80 percent by 2020.

NA Deputy Chairman Huynh Ngoc Son said however, that people have the right to decide to buy health insurance or not. He suggested that wider participation should be considered carefully.

According to a report from the NA Standing Committee on health insurance from 2009-12, the health insurance coverage had increased quickly from 58.2 percent of the population in 2009 to 66.8 percent in 2012.

The health insurance fund overspent nearly 3.1 trillion VND (147million USD) in 2009, but had a surplus of 2.8 trillion VND (133 million USD) in 2010 and nearly 12.9 trillion VND (614 million USD) in 2012.

Chairman of the NA Social Affairs Committee Truong Thi Mai said that many provinces have a health-insurance rate of nearly 100 percent of population. This had created a fund surplus in the central region and Central Highlands.

There are also four provinces, Nam Dinh, Tay Ninh, Kien Giang and Binh Phuoc, with a health-insurance rate of less than 50 percent in 2012. This was because of poor communications and inadequate awareness by local leaders.-VNA