Taiwan eyeing mandatory insurance for mountain hikers

Stranded hiker incident sparks public debate over use of taxpayer money for search and rescue

Taiwan eyeing mandatory insurance for mountain hikers

Insurance News

By Gabriel Olano

The Ministry of the Interior of Taiwan is currently reviewing a bill that makes insurance mandatory for mountain hikers, following a high-profile rescue of a man who got stranded in the mountains.

The bill, which was already passed in Hualien County, will also require hikers to submit a hiking plan, and bring a GPS device and a satellite phone. The insurance policy will cover not only the hiker’s medical treatments, but also the expenses incurred by the search-and-rescue teams such as equipment and wages.

Public debate over whether taxpayer money should be used to finance search-and-rescue operations for hikers was ignited after the long and perilous rescue of Lee Min-han, a 29-year-old Taipei resident who injured on a solo hike and stranded for 35 days in the mountains of Nantou and Hualien. One of the rescue volunteers also ended up severely injured during the operation.

However, the available insurance policies in Taiwan may not be sufficient due to several factors, reports the China Post. First, the insurance policies do not cover what could be the most expensive part of the rescue operation – helicopter expenses. Second, most insurance policies are available only for groups of five people or more, leaving out solo hikers and very small groups. Third, claiming expenses may be difficult as many rescuers operate as individuals and cannot issue invoices or other documents necessary for compensation by the insurance firm.

There is also an ethical issue over the proposal, as charging for search and rescue may “commercialise” the relationship between the individual needing rescue and the government. The China Post, in its disagreement, quoted the American Alpine Club: “Charging for search and rescue transforms a public safety activity that is principally about saving lives into a business decision.”

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