[EDITORIALS]A replacement and questions

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[EDITORIALS]A replacement and questions

Just after being replaced, Lee Tae-bok, the former minister of health and welfare, said Thursday that he was replaced due to the pharmaceutical industry's lobbying activities against his insurance and medicine pricing policies. If that is true, it is definitely a serious problem.

Mr. Lee was appointed at the end of January and it was somewhat surprising that he was replaced only five months later. It's true that Mr. Lee experienced some troubles with his staff due to the differences in their work styles. Some health and welfare organizations reportedly protested against Mr. Lee. It is, however, unclear why Mr. Lee was sacked and we cannot simply see his argument as a mere complaint about being unexpectedly replaced.

After the nationwide medical reform two years ago, the most important issue in the health and welfare ministry was increasing national health insurance premiums while reducing medical practice prices in order to stabilize the plummeting finances of the National Health Insurance Corp. Later, Mr. Lee began reforming the pricing system of medicines that are covered by the national insurance program. Mr. Lee aimed to use the minimum price of a medicine as the standard of a price-cut, instead of an average price. Mr. Lee also aimed to re-evaluate the efficacy of medicines and to introduce a new price labeling system in order to hold back unnecessary purchases of expensive medicines.

Domestic and international pharmaceutical companies strongly protested the reform plan and reportedly pressured Mr. Lee through various channels. The protests by multinational firms producing expensive medicines were the most fierce, Mr. Lee said. Mr. Lee's argument, however, is only a display of circumstantial evidence; there is no evidence that pharmaceutical firms really lobbied against him and that Mr. Lee was replaced because of the industry's pressure. For the transparency of this reshuffle and the government's personnel appointment policy, Mr. Lee's case and the truth about these alleged lobbying activities must be investigated.
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