[EDITORIALS]Loose lips sink health plansThe Minister of Health and Welfare recently withdrew an important policy on her own volition and made an announcement that rebuffed a government decision. Kim Hwa-joong, the health minister, recently annulled the government plan to implement a “diagnosis-related group” fee. Instead, medical institutes will continue charging separate amounts for preadmission services. Diagnosis-related groups are a system for classifying patient care by relating common characteristics such as diagnosis, treatment and age to an expected consumption of hospital resources and length of stay. They form the cornerstone of the proposed revisions to the medical payment system. The payment window system had been implemented as a trial in some medical institutes from 1997 to 2001.
Although the Korea Medical Association warns that this system could infringe on the doctors’ right to decide which treatment to use, the minister should not have withdrawn it without any acceptable explanation. She has surrendered to a special interest group.
Ms. Kim also erred by telling the economic agencies that unless a public health budget was allocated and the health ministry was given more of the cigarette tax, Korean nationals would not be allowed to be treated in hospitals within the Incheon special economic zones. The decision to allow Koreans to use the hospitals in the special economic zones was agreed on at a government conference presided over by the president and the minister herself had expressed her willingness to consider the issue favorably.
There are several difficult issues waiting to be solved by the health and welfare ministry, such as reforming the national pension and health insurance systems. Right now, the minister should be trying her best to persuade other government agencies, the National Assembly and the public to adopt her ministry’s policies and win their support. She should not have the time to make irresponsible and controversial comments, confusing the government network and burdening the public. Ms. Kim should show some more caution and a sense of responsibility.