Unchained health industry

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Unchained health industry

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development last month issued a report calling for health care reforms in Korea. The report advised the government to license for-profit health care companies.

The report received a mixed response from the government. The Strategy and Finance Ministry liked the idea of regarding health care as an industry, while the Health and Welfare Ministry wants to keep it in the realm of social welfare.

The previous administration had wanted to allow investment in hospitals and medial care facilities in order to expand the health care industry. But the policy hit a roadblock due to a dispute between two ministries.

As the OECD pointed out, investment in hospitals and medical companies is a global trend. Singapore, Thailand and India have enlarged their hospitals by drawing on corporate investment and promoting them as a source for economic growth.

Singapore in 2007 attracted 460,000 new patients by promoting medical tourism. Foreigners now spend over 900 billion won per year in Singapore on medical care.

Our doctors are equally competent. But because we don’t have the advanced infrastructure that Singapore does, Korea’s medical tourism industry brought just 60,000 patients to the country last year.

In the past, foreign nationals mostly traveled for plastic surgery, but these days many of them seek expensive medical treatments for cancer, cardiac disease and neurological problems.

With additional investment, the health care industry, and specifically the medical tourism industry, has the potential to become a lucrative field, yielding value-added businesses and creating high-paying jobs. Foreign patients, accompanied by their families, could stay here for a long period for treatment and care, bringing profits to many peripheral businesses.

Last year, the government included the health care industry as one of 17 sources for new economic growth and launched a “Medical Korea” marketing campaign. But the industry cannot compete when fettered by various restrictions and regulations. And having to cut through so much red tape undermines the welfare aspect of health care. In any case, however, the ministries should stop fighting and instead work together to find the best way to support the nation’s health care industry. It could benefit the entire country.
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