Time for Doctors to Accept an Olive Branch

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Time for Doctors to Accept an Olive Branch

The government yesterday came up with a set of reform measures aimed at improving the nation's healthcare system and the controversial medical bill on separating the overlapping roles of doctors and pharmacists. These new measures, which were devised to prevent a complete walkout by the medical community, address many of the issues that doctors have been disputing. The medical community should bear in mind that if it refuses to accept even this latest proposal, it will be viewed as a selfish group that will not negotiate. In such a scenario, it could find itself in state of disgrace that would be very difficult to recover from.

The government has decided to raise doctors' medical treatment charges by 6.5 percent beginning next month. At the moment, doctors are compensated for only 80 percent of their bills, but the government plans to compensate them fully, up to 100 percent, within two years. According to the government's reform measures, pharmacists have to receive a signed agreement from the patients if they dispense drugs that are not on the doctor's prescription. They also have to notify the changes to the doctor in writing, either by fax or e-mail. The government also agreed to reduce the quota of medical students and improve overall compensation and benefits for specialists. All in all, the measures show that the government is trying to open a channel for dialogue with the medical community.

We strongly urge the medical community to immediately stop its collective walkout, and resume dialogue with the government. Certainly, we are all aware that the government proposal falls short of doctors’ demands. Rather than trying to obtain everything at a single stroke, however, the medical community should exercise patience and engage in dialogue so as to gradually resolve whatever aspects may still need adjusting. It has already witnessed the negative response of the general public to its all out struggle that has put the health and even the lives of the public at risk. The medical community must disappoint the people no longer. It must resume negotiations with the government and pharmacists in order to reach a compromise, in a rational and logical manner.

As for the government, it should use the doctors' strike as an opportunity to introduce a medical and healthcare system that is most appropriate for the nation. Many people believe that the current medical insurance system is closer to that of the United Kingdom than the United States. Since some members of the medical community have cautiously broached the necessity of introducing private medical insurance programs, the government should review this as one of the alternatives. We believe that the state should be responsible for guaranteeing basic medical treatments for every citizen as an extension of the social welfare system. Nevertheless, it does not seem to be necessary for the government to foot the bill for consumers' desire for higher quality medical treatment, such as that offered by highly experienced doctors or top class hospitals with expensive equipment. Market principles could be adapted to fit the medical insurance system so that those consumers who are willing to pay more for better quality medical treatment should be allowed to do so within the system. An important issue for consideration, should this alternative be adopted, is how to resolve the sense of "social disparity" that is expected to arise, especially since Koreans have an exceptionally strong sense of equality.

The government must also pay heed to the feelings of the large group of people, largely salaried workers, who pay their taxes in a transparent manner. Since they will have to pay higher medical insurance fees from month, there could be the familiar complaints that "salaried workers are always the easiest prey." In order to prevent such discontent, the government must secure fairness and transparency in the tax rates applied to the medical community.

Now that the government has swerved from its hard-line stance to take the initiative in opening a channel for dialogue, doctors must respond actively and the olive branch that has been offered them. They must stop their collective action and engage in dialogue to search for the best ways to improve the nation's healthcare system.

by Kim Young-hie

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