[EDITORIALS]Sloppy medical reform

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[EDITORIALS]Sloppy medical reform

Health insurance premiums paid by corporate employees have risen too much. Salaried workers are extremely angry, for their insurance premiums have jumped by up to 99 percent, beginning this month. The premium hike is attributed to the end of temporary discounts. The government gave the discounts to corporate employees in sync with the integration of the health insurance organizations in July 2000 and an insurance premium increase last January, all done in a bid to alleviate workers' resistance. There is more to come: The state-run National Health Insurance Corp. plans to raise the premiums by another 9 percent or so in March.

The main culprit that put the national health insurance in the red is the current administration's sloppy medical reform in July 2000. Adding to the financial problems of the insurance fund, the government raised medical treatment fees and integrated health insurance organizations, while many medical institutions cheated the state insurance fund with false claims. In a bid to soothe angry doctors resisting medical reform, the government raised medical fees for doctors on five occasions for a total of 49 percent. According to a recent report by Seoul National University, medical fees for hospitals and university medical institutions are lower than the costs by 7 percent, while local clinics receive fees 18 percent higher than costs.

It goes without saying that the purpose of the medical reform is to prevent excessive use of drugs. But what are the results? The use of antibiotics and injections have not been reduced, while the health insurance fund for corporate workers that had more than 2 trillion won ($1.5 billion) in its coffers before the reform is now seeing red ink. Government officials said that combining insurance funds of the corporate workers with that of regional health insurers would lead to a healthy finance for both funds, as the richer one would help the poorer.

The near bankruptcy of the health insurance system should not be blamed on policyholders but on policymakers. The government's bungling should not be passed on to salaried workers. The government must first draw up measures to correct its mistakes and reduce health insurance expenditure, before raising premiums at a minimum possible rate.
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