[EDITORIALS]Reform in the health marketThe Ministry of Health and Welfare’s medical reform plan can be summed up as a plan to strengthen the international competitiveness of the Korean medical sector by introducing market principles. For this purpose, the ministry plans to allow profit-making corporations and permit medical doctors to work at more than one hospital. Hospitals will be allowed limited advertising to attract patients, and doors for foreign medical doctors will be opened. The ministry’s reform plan seems to be an inevitable step in view of the development of medical technology and the trend toward opening up our medical market.
There’s fierce competition worldwide for medical services. Many countries have eased regulations and introduced market principles in the medical sector. Through such measures, they improve the standard of medical service to draw patients from overseas and gain enormous added value. Singapore, China and Thailand are the examples. If we watch this with folded-arms, our medical industry will lose competitiveness and face collapse. Although belated, the ministry has made the right move. Now medical reform has passed the stage of debate and examination. We have to spur implementation.
There can be side effects. When profit-making corporations are allowed, the market will be restructured in a big way and large-scale medical corporations may monopolize it. If the medical industry were put under strict regulation on the pretext of public interest, the quality of services would deteriorate drastically as has been seen in the United Kingdom. In the medical service sector too, market principles should be introduced so that skilled physicians can be rewarded with high fees for providing high-quality care, while those with poor skills are weeded out.
When the reform plan takes hold, low-income people might feel deprived. When private sector services expand, public sector service, including the National Health Insurance, can weaken. In consideration of the weak, the government should adopt a two-track policy: The government takes care of public medical services, while the medical community competes according to market principles. The government must fulfill the promise that it will invest 4 trillion won ($4 billion) in the public sector and increase the medical insurance payment to 70 percent of costs by 2007.
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