[VIEWPOINT]Delay the medical health merger

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[VIEWPOINT]Delay the medical health merger

Doctors try to make correct diagnoses and to prescribe the best medicine for patients. If a doctor sees that there are serious side effects in a patient because of a medication, he will stop administering the medicine to the patient.

The doctor would search for a new method of curing the patient, observing his reaction to the new treatment. For the same reasons, the financial merger of Korea's two health insurance plans, which will happen next week, should be postponed.

A bill to nullify the merger cleared the National Assembly's standing committee after its unilateral endorsement by the main opposition Grand National Party, and the ruling party is protesting vigorously.

But the political dispute misses the essential question. One side insists that the two health insurance plans should be merged to foster income redistribution and an egalitarian society. The other side insists that a merger would add to the burden of wage earners, because it is difficult to confirm the income of self-employed persons, and they often cheat on their premiums.

Those arguments are not new, and the essential question is how the unexpected deficits in the plans, 2 trillion won ($1.5 billion) per year, can be eliminated. We should remember that the plans were financially healthy before their administration was merged in 1998. In 1997, the accrued surplus in the employee plan was 2.5 trillion won and the regionally organized insurance plans also had surpluses.

When the administrative merger was announced, I said its success should be judged by financial standards, but I am not yet sure if the financial collapse was because of the merger per se. It could be a temporary phenomenon.

A lawmaker of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party said that either merger or separation would cause problems because the fundamental reasons for the financial drain have not yet been addressed. There is some truth in what he said.

Accordingly it would be wise to delay the merger of the two financial systems and see what happens to their finances over the medium term.

We do not now need to choose between a full merger and a full separation. I think such a decision should be delayed for two years at the minimum. It is said that the ruling and opposition parties had tentatively agreed on a one-year delay before the bill to nullify the merger cleared the National Assembly's standing committee, but a one-year delay is not enough. It would simply be too difficult to stabilize the existing plans' finances and improve the system to trace the income of self-employed workers in only one year.

Finally, a new president will not yet be in office one year from now. If a decision on a full merger were delayed for only a year, we would probably see a repetition of the same old arguments pro and con; the same old debates would rage without any new information coming to light on which to base a sound, reasoned judgement.

We need rational discussion based on facts. Government officials and politicians should not interpret the facts one-sidedly in order to push their particular views.

Some insist on a merger or separation of the two health insurance plans only because they want to remain consistent with their past positions. Consistent views may be a virtue, but excessively consistent views that are not based on reality can only be called self-righteousness and pride.

The view that insurance premiums to be paid by wage earners will jump if the finances of the two health insurance plans are not merged is also misleading. Whether the finances of the two plans are merged or not, a rise in insurance premiums for both employees and the self-employed is inevitable.

Policymakers will also have to consider that the deficit in the health insurance plans reached 2 trillion won this year and decide how to stem those recurring losses rather than focusing on the sunk cost of 100 billion won which was used to prepare for the merger.

Policymakers should pool their ideas to save the health insurance plans with cool heads, rather than insisting on the righteousness of their views with a warm heart.


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The writer is a professor of health science and management at Yonsei University.

by Kim Han-joong

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