First Things First for Medical Reform

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First Things First for Medical Reform

The ruling party and the government seem to be putting the cart before the horse in their handling of the doctors' strike. They are reportedly examining a plan to increase regional medical insurance premiums by 20 percent next month and again by 20 percent in June next year. This move is a disappointment to the general public who have become impatient with the stalemate in the dispute between the government and the medical sector.

It is fortunate that the ruling party and the government have understood the necessity of adjusting medical insurance premiums to a realistic level. However, it will not do to force certain sectors of society to make sacrifices without tackling the fundamental problem. The ruling party has disclosed that it is currently working toward the staggered introduction of higher insurance premiums over the next year, on the premise that it will be able to secure a 1.334 trillion won ($1.2 billion) contribution from government funds, in a bid to make up the 2.44 trillion won ($2.2 billion) shortfall in regional insurance premiums expected to be incurred by next year. If the government faces problems securing this subsidy, it is likely that premiums will see an even larger increase. The government's current stance is also contrary to its previous promise that it would not raise insurance premiums, and is really just a way of treating the symptoms of the healthcare question, rather than providing a solution that gets to the roots of the problem.

In particular, this plan will not win the favor of the general public who will have to shell out more money. With more and more citizens becoming disgruntled with the medical profession and the government as a result of the protracted inconvenience and anxiety that patients and their families have had to suffer, will anyone readily accept a plan that requires them to pay more for medical care? The government's plan is also likely to strike many people as a ruse designed to impose a larger proportion of the burden on the general public, under pressure from the doctors and before the larger framework of a new health insurance system has been drawn up with public consensus. Furthermore, it has yet to be confirmed exactly how much money the government will be able to provide to subsidize the health insurance system. Since the public already thinks that doctors are only interested in money the government's discussion of the extent of the premium hike does not reflect favorably on the medical profession. The government's proposed plan might therefore be construed as a subterfuge designed to drive medics into a corner by fanning such public discontent. The government has misjudged the situation if it believes that things can be improved by raising premiums before it has come up with a comprehensive framework for the new health insurance system.

To start with, the government must gain the confidence of the medical profession by reassuring them that medical insurance payments to doctors will be made realistic. It must then carry out the necessary reforms in a thorough manner. If the government skips any parts of the reforms, it will not be able to stem the tide of public discontent.

In addition, the National Health Insurance Corporation, which has had difficulty administering regional insurance schemes due to its own labor dispute, must be returned to normal functioning as soon as possible. If this organization's network is reinforced, it will be possible to accurately gauge the incomes of regional medical insurance policy holders, impose appropriate premiums on them, and therefore collect a higher percentage of premiums from them. The implementation of these measures will make it possible to return insurance revenues and the taxpayers' money used to subsidize the system, to a healthy state and address the worries of salaried workers, who are unhappy about the lack of fairness when it comes to the payment of insurance premiums.

Now that the government has made its intentions clear -- realistic insurance premiums, securing local insurance revenues, and the revision of the pharmacists' law -- the doctors, in turn, must promptly return to their workplaces and participate in dialogue.

by Kwon Young-bin

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