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[NOTEBOOK]Health Care and Doublespeak

June 03,2001
"How can he say that it costs just 700 won (54 cents) more every month? The total would be trillions of won for all Koreans," said a middle-aged man.

"I frequent hospitals because of my lung condition. The government raised the non-deductible part of medical bills so much. What can I do?" said an old man.

Kim Won-gil, the minister of health and welfare, said Thursday in a late night news interview that the government tried to minimize people's burden as much as possible. As Mr. Kim repeated this position over and over, thousands of people called JoongAng Ilbo and protested against Mr. Kim's remarks. After the news program ended, the broadcaster also received numerous calls and complaints, and the official Web site of the health ministry was much the same.

Mr. Kim's reasoning is like this: The government's new measure rationalized medical payment system so that it reduced 1.06 trillion won worth of annual payment to medical institutions and 1.05 trillion won worth to pharmacists and drug makers.

Meanwhile, individual burdens increased by only 423 billion won, rather small compared to the cut to the medical and pharmaceutical communities. And the 424 billion won divided by number of entire Koreans is 700 won per month for an individual citizen. Mr. Kim is correct if one simply looks at the the numbers.

But this is not true if one looks at it realistically. There are people who are ill and poor and often have to go to hospitals. Mentioning 700 won more may be merely a statistical joke.

Mr. Kim said to fill four trillion won losses in medical insurance finance, the government will infuse 1.4 trillion won of cash. A person, whose Internet ID was "virtuous citizen," wrote in the ministry Web site, "Isn't the government money from people?"

Mr. Kim said, "I expected praise from people and a warm reception for the new measure, but I am embarrassed because people say it is burdensome."

Mr. Kim should not brag about the reduction for payment to medical and pharmaceutical communities, which he emphasized. This is what the government should have done well before it started the new system that required prescription for pharmacists to sell prescription drugs since last July.

Of course, because of the failure of the new medical system and hard feelings people have, it must be difficult for the minister to acknowledge the increase in people's burden for medical payment. But saying the new measure would minimize the burden is far-fetched.

It might have been better if he tried to persuade people by saying, "Since we came up with this much of reduction, people will have to shoulder a little more burden to fill the holes in medical insurance finance to receive decent service."



The writer is a reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Shin Sung-sik




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