[EDITORIALS]Good first step on health care

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[EDITORIALS]Good first step on health care

Foreign hospitals will be opened in free economic zones in around 2008 and Korean patients will be allowed to get medical treatment at such hospitals. The government presented a draft revision of the law on free economic zones to the National Assembly. After many twists and turns, a turning point in opening up the closed medical service market in Korea is promised.
It is a good arrangement that foreign medical corporations are allowed in free economic zones, and the medical fee at such hospitals are covered by private medical insurance. Now, if a patient is willing to pay more for advanced medical services, there will be a way for them to get what they want. The absurd reality, that over 1 trillion won ($873 million) is being spent by patients who are not satisfied with domestic medical service, and so go abroad, will be improved. If domestic and foreign hospitals compete in our medical market, the standard of medical service will improve dramatically and the people will benefit from that.
What matters here is that reverse discrimination ― binding domestic medical institutions with regulations, while allowing foreign hospitals to have limitless freedom ― has not been rectified. Under current law, a novice medical doctor gets the same service fee as a renowned veteran doctor receives, and it is illegal to get extra medical care, even at a patient’s own expense. Up-to-date medical treatment and newly developed pharmaceutical products are available only in some serious cases. And it is difficult for Korean businesses and hospitals to establish hospitals inside the free economic areas.
Such reverse discrimination against Korean medical institutes must be abolished. If fair competition is possible under market principles, the monopoly of foreign hospitals can be prevented. Medical regulations must be eased. At least the system of designating the National Health Insurance as the sole medical insurer should be eased, and private insurance plans should be introduced more widely.
We have to consider the negative effects of market opening. Ordinary people’s chances of getting medical care should not be limited. The standard of public medical care, that is at the lowest level among OECD countries, should be raised. In the private service sector, regulations should be eased to raise Korea’s competitiveness. But government must expand investment in public health to prevent imbalances between regions and social classes.
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