[EDITORIALS]Health care reform is vitalThe distortion in our medical system is reaching the point of danger. We live in a medical reality where there is an acute lack of surgeons who can perform life-saving operations, while there is an abundance of cosmetic surgeons. Surgery, radiology and pathological anatomy departments at general hospitals are suffering from a drought of new practitioners - they are seen as "dirty, dangerous and difficult" jobs that Koreans shun. Medical school superstars are instead heading to cosmetic surgery, dermatology and ophthalmology, where the cost of treatment is not covered by insurance and allows doctors to charge higher fees. Such phenomena are a tragedy for patients. There are no doctors to help them recover from illness, only doctors who can help them to look good.
The problem is not only one of declining physician morality. A large part of the blame lies with the government's policy of holding down fees charged by doctors. The government should increase surgical fees for surgeons performing cancer and heart procedures, the reading and translation fees for computer tomography and X-rays paid to surgeons and radiologists and biopsy fees for pathologists - fees for essential medical services that often go unnoticed - to reflect inflationary trends.
In order to do that, policy should focus on redistributing insurance funds, not raising fees. Fees for high-tech treatment such as artificial joints should be ended or curtailed; medication can control most joint problems. While some cost-effectiveness studies are needed, we should focus insurance on life-saving, not life-improving, procedures. High-tech procedures can be paid for out of the patient's pocket. The choice is the patient's, and the high fees doctors earn can be recouped through taxes, which can be channeled to low-income persons.
Rising medical fees ultimately mean an increased financial burden on patients. In order for medical insurance to help with basic, life-saving treatment, doctors and pharmacists must cooperate. They must stop corrupt practices like tacit cartels, preferring high-priced drugs over less-costly alternatives and selling unneeded medication to patients.