Officials of Ecuador’s Social Security (IESS) system were forced to cut short a Friday meeting with foreign residents when some members of the audience became disruptive. The meeting, held at the Cuenca IESS office, had been called to explain a fee increase and procedural changes for IESS voluntary membership.
Most Cuenca-area foreign residents who are IESS members joined for the system’s health care benefits.
“Completely unacceptable,” was how an IESS representative described the shouting and shoving that followed the announcement of the fee increase. “Most of the audience were well-behaved but there were a few who were out of control,” he said. “We had more issues to discuss but were not able to.”
IESS announced the fee changes earlier in the week in Quito, saying they were necessary to correct “inequities” that occurred during the 2013 expansion of the system’s voluntary membership program.
According to IESS, the revisions affect several thousand voluntary members, mostly Ecuadorian citizens who had not paid into the system over their working careers, but also foreign residents from about 20 countries.
Beginning in July, all voluntary members will be required to pay an amount equal to 17.6% of their income to participate in the system. In the case of expats whose residency visa is based on recurring income, the amount will be determined by income certified in their residency application.
Other permanent residents, such as those with investor’s visas, will need to provide proof of monthly income.
Under the new calculation, a foreign resident with a monthly income of $900 would pay $158.40 for IESS membership. For an income of $1,500, payment would be $264.
Rates for dependents of permanent residents covered by IESS will also increase.
Currently, most voluntary members pay a percentage based on Ecuador’s national minimum wage, or $375 a month. “That is obviously unfair to workers and their employers who contribute based on the full amount of their salaries,” an IESS spokeswoman said in Quito. “The adjustment is simply intended to make payments fair for all members and fully fund the system.”
The disruption of the meeting by rowdy expats caught many at the meeting by surprise. Part-time Cuenca expat Martin Simmons said he was embarrassed by the behavior. “I had heard about the ugly Americans in Cuenca but I had never seen them until this morning,” he said. “They certainly showed their ignorant asses to the world today.”
Simmons described the meeting as “awkward,” mostly due to language difficulties. “It could have been better organized in terms of the English translation of what was announced but once the selfish loud-mouths started shouting it was a lost cause anyway.”
The meeting was a hot topic Friday on several expat forums with many comments condemning the actions of the disruptive expats. One commenter reported that some “gringos went batshit crazy and started shouting and complaining and demanding answers to questions to information that had not yet been presented!!!”
The Quito spokeswoman estimated there are 400 to 500 foreign residents who are IESS voluntary members in Cuenca and Azuay Province. She said that about 150 expats are full members of the system, paying into it through their employment, and are not affected by the changes.