[EDITORIAL] No to Pharmaceutical Act RevisionsRevisions to the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act, which exclude drugs administered by injection from medical reform, is causing a ruckus among the pharmaceutical association and civic groups. The Korean Pharmaceutical Association has adopted the position that it will reject medical reform outright, insisting that their members have the right to prepare drugs and sell medications a tablet at the time. The specter of another medical logjam is looming. The confusion over whether to include injected medications on the medical reform list is not new problem. In June last year, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced that all medication administered by injection would be eliminated from the list of medical reform, but changed its position after only 10 days, saying those drugs stored in freezers, refrigerators and shaded places would be the exceptions. On July 31 in the amendment to the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act, exceptions were granted to the frozen and refrigerated injections, whereas medications that are allowed to be kept in the shade were to be added to the list in March 2001. However, by accepting the government's demand to exclude all injected drugs from the list of medical reform, the National Assembly Health and Welfare Committee forced the matter back to square one. The government's inconsistent policy and the legislature's willy-nilly handling of the legislation have once again stoked discord on the medical reform issue.
The government says that it intends to exclude injected medications from medical reform in a bid to alleviate patient inconvenience and cut medical costs. Excluding injected drugs from the reform eliminates prescription fees paid to the doctors and preparation fees paid to pharmacists. Patients would benefit to the tune of 110 billion won ($87 million) in medical fees annually, while medical insurance outlays would shrink by 300 billion won. The government also explains that the injections that have been already excluded from medical reform account for 85 percent of the all shots, and that is why it will not cause problems even if all injections are excluded from medical reform. There are some positive aspects in excluding drugs administered by injection from the list of medical reform. Yet, it does not make sense when the government talks about alleviating inconvenience for patients who go back and forth between doctors' offices and pharmacists. At the outset of medical reform, the government pleaded with citizens, asking them to bear inconveniences in the name of reducing abuse and misuse of injections. Korea's prescription rate for injected drugs stands at 56 percent, a staggeringly high figure compared to the World Health Organization's recommendation of 17.2 percent. If the reform is finalized, it is highly like- ly to encourage drug abuses. Furthermore, if the procedure is reversed just as the general public is slowly getting used to buying injected medications at drug stores, chaos would reign.
The original spirit of medical reform lies in preventing abuse and misuse of medications for the health of the general public. Therefore, the question of injections should be handled under this principle. It will not do only to emphasize izthe public's conveniencelo or irpublic health,lp while ignoring patients' conveniences altogether. Also it will be unacceptable if the matter is driven in the direction of a showdown between doctors and pharmacists over their shares of profits. Since the procedure in the parliamentary plenary session remains, the government, doctors and pharmacists should return to the spirit of consensus reached in November and find a more reasonable solution.