[Viewpoint] Stop squabbling on healthIt is a great pleasure for me to go shopping when I visit my parents in my hometown. I usually buy tofu, bean sprouts, candies, pork, etc. My mother likes it when I shop, though she says I don’t have to do so. As she has to take a bus to go to the market, it is really bothersome for her to go shopping. In addition to these groceries, I have to buy some household medicines, such as digestives and painkillers and fever remedies. In a remote village, it’s a really big problem if they get sick in the middle of the night. I can only feel relieved if I know my parents have a supply of those household medicines.
But the situation is a little different in Seoul. I cannot buy an over-the-counter digestive at a convenience store in my neighborhood. Even nonprescription over-the-counter drugs can only be sold only at pharmacies.
Several days ago, I suffered from a stomachache at night. My wife ran around to look for a pharmacy. There was not a single drugstore opened. I vomited but had to endure the stomachache all night long. I thought it was a real hassle for me to visit an emergency room at a hospital. I recalled that the government promised to run nighttime drugstores. But it hasn’t worked so far.
I brought up my personal story because I feel really sorry for the state of medical service in our country. The confrontation between Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-hyun and Health Minister Jeon Jae-hee is becoming ridiculous. Yoon has been pushing for improving medical service and Jeon is in charge of that. But they are in conflict on policy instead of cooperating.
The latest spate came on June 24 when several ministers gave a briefing on economic policies for the second half of the year. At issue was a long-pending debate on the introduction of profit-based medical corporations. “I oppose the plan until additional measures are proposed to remedy an imperfect policy,” said Jeon. He claims the new policy will raise medical fees and would cause financial problems for small hospitals in provincial areas. When Jeon made the remarks, Yoon’s face stiffened and he looked uncomfortable.
Yoon had told the National Assembly on June 21 that he regarded the introduction of a profit-based medical corporations as a top priority. “More foreign patients are coming to Korea for medical treatment. We need to introduce profit-seeking medical groups as soon as possible to globalize the medical service industry and create jobs.”
The two ministers also differ on whether over-the-counter drugs should be sold at convenience stores and supermarkets. “It will cause drug abuse. Health safety is the most important thing,” says Jeon. “We have to consider the convenience of people first. The sale ban should be lifted,” says Yoon. A Finance Ministry official suggested that the Health Ministry is siding with “pharmacists who have been getting kickbacks in the form of rebates for years.”
The two issues should be decided for the sake of people in the end. I suggest the two ministers should iron out decisions in open-ended public discussions if they really want to upgrade medical service.
*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is an editor of social affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Yang Young-yu