Time for Gov't to Decide on Future Course of Medical Reform Bill

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Time for Gov't to Decide on Future Course of Medical Reform Bill

The U.S. occupation forces in Japan drew up a report after inspecting the country's medical and pharmaceutical sectors in 1947. One paragraph in the report stated: "In Japan, doctors sell medicine, dentists sell gold, and pharmacists sundry goods." The Americans, who believed it was only natural for "doctors to treat the sick and pharmacists to dispense medicine," found the unfamiliar practices quite difficult to understand. The Japanese government introduced a modern healthcare system with the help of Germans at the end of 19th century. It was an ancient tradition for Oriental doctors to sell medicinal herbs, in addition to treating their patients, however, and the Japanese government found it extremely difficult to stop the doctors from dispensing medicine. Naturally, pharmacists protested and the entire nation--politicians, bureaucrats and the general public--became embroiled in a bitter controversy over the overlapping roles, which still continues today.

During the struggle to reform healthcare practices in Japan, some doctors even feigned illness, went to a pharmacy, and tried to trick the pharmacist into violating the law. Young pharmacists organized a protest group to stage sit-in demonstrations. Some of them even threw feces and urine at hospitals. Japan's current law clearly separates the roles of the two professions, but in reality, the separation is only enforced on an optional basis, mainly because the origins of the conflict still remain unresolved. Physical means of protest, such as strikes, vanished long ago, however. At the moment, Japanese doctors are allowed to dispense medicine in a quite broad range of cases. For instance, they can dispense medicine if a patient does not specifically ask for an outside prescription. Instead, the medicines sold at hospital pharmacies are more expensive. It is therefore up to the patient to choose between the hospital and an outside pharmacy, based on the price differences and the level of inconvenience involved. The degree of separation in the overlapping roles of doctors and pharmacists reached about 30 percent in Japan last year. Doctors in Korea, however, oppose a similar optional policy.

In an interview with Joongang Ilbo, President Kim confessed, "The government made the mistake of being overly complacent in its assessment of the situation." In other words, the government did not expect any major problems because the doctors, pharmacists and civic groups had all agreed on the separation in the first place. The key issue now is what countermeasures should be taken in the future. The government cannot delay the new medical reform bill because the public would take this as a declaration that it is giving up on the reform. On the other hand it cannot implement the dubious policy of voluntary separation, and it seems that the medical sector will continue to protest if the current system is enforced. Some cancer patients, who by now do not have the strength to stay angry, are selling their houses and heading to the United States for treatment. If the president has admitted to making mistakes, then shouldn't the doctors also express their "regret" over the strikes that have continued for far too long?

by Noh Jai-hyon

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