[EDITORIALS]Medical Plan Hurts the PeopleThe Ministry of Health and Welfare's comprehensive plan for stabilizing the national health insurance budget, which was announced Wednesday, calls on the public to pay more money under the condition that the government raises the subsidy on the regional health insurance budget by 50 percent and improves various features of the health insurance system.
According to the comprehensive plan, the government will increase the amount of minor medical treatment fees starting in July and raise the health insurance premium by 9 percent annually from next year to stabilize the insurance budget by the year 2006. Instead of not raising the insurance fees this year, the new plan states that the government will raise the financial support on the regional health insurance budget by 50 percent this year and that it will plug the 1.1 trillion won ($861 million) shortage with loans from financial institutes. The plan has some positive aspects as well. For example, it was the right decision to introduce a special health care service for senior citizens on an application basis and reduce medical fees for people who suffer from serious illness. The decisions to assess medical insurance fees also on dependents who have incomes, create electronic insurance cards and make doctors and pharmacists request reimbursements via e-mails are also desirable since they are expected to make the management system more transparent.
The ministry announced that it had provided the plan based on the principle of minimizing pressure on the public without victimizing medical and pharmaceutical communities. However, the new policy does increase the burden on the people since minor medical treatment fees at hospitals are expected to rise 36 percent and those at pharmacies are expected jump 50 percent, and insurance premiums will likely increase by 9 percent annually starting next year. This is the result of an attempt by the government to increase incomes while holding reimbursements steady, worried about opposition from the medical community. Moreover, patients will have to pay 30 percent of total medical treatment fees and drug compounding fees beginning in 2003. This means clinic visits for minor illnesses will cost twice what they do now. The ministry promised it would increase the subsidy for the regional insurance budget 50 percent, but this does not sound realistic. Although it already has some 1.4 trillion won to boost the regional insurance budget this year, the authorities are reluctant to allocate the sum since it will take almost all remainder of the revised supplementary budget for this year which amounts to only 1.5 trillion won. As a desperate measure, the ministry had originally attempted to increase the health promotion fees levied on cigarettes, however, the plan was cancelled over public criticism. Although it has promised that it will save some 2.5 trillion won a year through 20 short-term plans, including improvement in the reimbursement system and reductions in drug compounding fees, it does not sound optimistic.
The purpose of the medical reform was to prevent misuse and overuse of medicines and medical treatments. Some may argue that it is too early to evaluate the new system only after one year since it took effect. However, it seems that nothing has really changed after the reform. Instead, it has increased the burden on the people. For whom and for what was the new system implemented? The government should come up with more fundamental proposals that would stabilize the health insurance budget. In this sense, the comprehensive plan is only a first step towards the settlement of the insurance budget.