[EDITORIALS]Bad Medicine and AccountabilityThe Board of Audit and Inspection's demand to hold only seven officials at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, including the vice minister, director-generals and directors, accountable for the health care financing crisis is stirring criticism. High-ranking government officials and party leaders who played a role in the planning and implementation of medical reform, which divided the roles of doctors and pharmacists, were not on the list reported to prosecutors.
The watchdog reportedly decided not to hold responsible former Health Minister Cha Heung-bong, although he did not report the severity of the insurance deficit and neglected devising measures to minimize public inconvenience, on the ground he had already retired. However, the ministry officials said they warned the former minister as early as September 1999 that the health care system would go in the red if the medical reform were implemented, but Mr. Cha dismissed the report. Mr. Cha also allegedly announced that only 1.5 trillion won ($1.1 billion) at the most would be needed for additional funding. If he concealed the report on the looming financial crisis and advertised that medical reform would not encounter cost overruns, he deceived the people.
Of course, there are arguments against convicting a person for policy missteps. However, since the inception of the present government, the watchdog has indicted Kang Kyong-shik, former deputy prime minister, and Lee Suk-chae, former minister of information and communication, for similar reasons. The watchdog may not have reported Mr. Cha, because Mr. Kang was found not guilty. However, it cannot be denied that there is a difference in the way the watchdog handled Mr. Cha and officials from previous governments.
Medical reform was one of the main reform tasks undertaken by the "people's government." Holding some working level officials responsible for policy missteps and not holding high-ranking policy makers in the party and administration accountable will raise a question of moral standards.