[EDITORIALS] Start With the ABC's of Reform
President Kim Dae-jung apologized to the people for the health insurance financial crisis during a meeting with members of the Millennium Democratic Party's Supreme Council Sunday. We welcome Mr. Kim's candid apology and propose an overall reappraisal of the health care system, beginning with the division of roles between doctors and pharmacists.
Monday, Mr. Kim directed the prime minister to devise comprehensive measures and the government is expected to announce at the beginning of next week its plans for the stabilization of the health care system.
According to the MDP, the crux of the plan consists of rationalizing the structure of expenditures, raising premiums by 10-15 percent, and providing government funds as a last resort. The plan is aimed at paying off the 4 trillion won ($3.1 billion) deficit expected this year with 2.7 -2.8 trillion won saved by rationalizing the expenditure structure and 400 - 560 billion won in revenue from premium raises. Included in the rationalization scheme are more stringent controls on overpricing by medical institutions and the overhaul of the National Health Insurance Corp. On the other hand, the framework of the doctor-pharmacist division will be maintained.
We believe these measures cannot fundamentally solve the financial crisis of the health care system. If reforms are confined to stopgap measures such as an increase in premiums and the provision of public funds, the financial crisis will recur. All problems, from the division itself to its implementation, should be reviewed. New measures should be devised based on the reappraisal.
Some people branded the media as opposing "reform" when it pinpointed to the lack of preparations within the government before and immediately after the division of labor began in July. The doctor-pharmacist division and the merging of health insurance cooperatives are important national tasks that are directly linked to people's health. Nonetheless, the government turned a deaf ear to the explanation of the realities and unreasonably pushed a policy based on desk administration theories. Errors can occur even when plans are well thought-out; without such a process, how could the policy possibly succeed?
The basic objective behind the doctor-pharmacist division lies in preventing calamities from the misuse and abuse of medicine. But since the division, the misuse of antibiotics has not diminished by much and the health care system is in ruins. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 3.7 trillion won in additional expenditures from the division is included in the health insurance deficit expected this year. If so, for whom was the division, which led to doctors' strikes, forcibly put into effect?
Instead of clinging to election pledges and drawing the line in advance when devising measures, the government should review the entire system from the ground up, taking the opportunity that Mr. Kim's apology provides. The government should make its decisions after weighing the financial crisis, the pros and cons of various policies and the expense estimated if all or part of the doctor-pharmacist division is reversed. It should disclose the names of the officials who briefed the president that there are no problems in executing the division and hold them strictly responsible. They are the very culprits who prevented the president from seeing and hearing the truth.
The painful lesson we have learned from the medical reform crisis is that policies that distort reality should never again be implemented in the name of reform just for reform's sake.