[EDITORIALS]Medical strike unjustifiedThe Ministry of Health and Welfare finally held a meeting to deliberate national health insurance policy on Wednesday. The ministry said it would increase health insurance premiums by 6.7 percent and lower medical treatment charges by 2.9 percent this year. The Korean Medical Association strongly opposed the cut in charges and began a strike on Tuesday, even before the decision was made. The association did not send representatives to Wednesday's meeting.
Despite doctors' protests, medical treatment fees will be lowered for the first time since the health insurance system was adopted in 1977. The biggest reason behind the cuts is red ink in the finances of the National Health Insurance Corporation. Last year, the corporation ran a loss of 1.8 trillion won ($1.38 billion); this January alone, the system had losses of 240 billion won, a full one-third of the annual loss the corporation projected for the entire year.
Losses are higher because the government postponed the imposition of new cigarette taxes, estimated to bring in 55 billion won a month, until this March. Premium increases were also delayed. Health Ministry officials said a cut in medical charges is unavoidable, but the medical association argued that low fees are the reason for prevailing low standards of care.
"The government is holding doctors responsible for the losses in the national health insurance system," the association said.
The government carries full responsibility for the problem of medical treatment charges. When health care reforms were announced, it raised treatment fees five times to appease doctors. Even after the health insurance system's finances turned sour, Seoul said it would not cut those fees.
Kim Won-gil, who was appointed as health and welfare minister with the task of solving the problem, pledged not to cut fees. Now that the minister has been replaced, the government flip-flopped and doctors no longer trust Seoul's assurances. Despite the situation, the medical association should not hold people's health hostage. It should take note of criticism that the medical reforms benefited only doctors; physicians should accept the government decision to cut their fees.