No time for populist campaigns

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No time for populist campaigns

Few people would argue against the pursuit of a better welfare system. Welfare has become imperative amid the deepening social polarization in Korea. Both the ruling and opposition parties alike are increasingly calling for better welfare services. But there must be clear and realistic principles and guidelines behind every policy, no matter how urgent it is to address a specific problem.

The opposition Democratic Party’s move to introduce free medical services is a populist stunt. First of all, it has gotten the principles wrong. No nation is capable of covering all medical costs for its people. If individuals are given this type of opportunity, their demands for medical coverage will be endless. Even Rhyu Si-min, the former health minister who served in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, had to ask the country’s poorest group of people to pay minimum premiums for medical coverage despite criticism from the liberal camp. Some advanced countries that offer free medical coverage are now struggling under immense deficits. Therefore, authorities must do their math first and study the situation carefully before making any changes in welfare-related policies.

Most importantly, the government simply cannot afford free medical coverage. The DP’s calculation that it would cost 8 trillion won ($7.1 billion) - already a whopping number - is misleading, as it would only cover immediate costs. The figure also would grow every year, creating a huge burden on the country. This, in turn, will lead to deficits.

Providing free medical service is a radical idea that was initially introduced by the progressive Democratic Labor Party in 2000. But the DP, the main opposition party, should certainly know whether a plan is feasible or not. Rather than focusing on this unsustainable idea, politicians should instead look to fix the underlying problems, which are rooted in health insurance policies. They must come up with a way to protect people from soaring medical costs. The ruling Grand National Party has proposed legislation encouraging the private sector to help fight diseases. The bill, which would pave the way for hospitals to share their medical supplies to reduce health care costs, should be examined closely.

Parties and politicians will likely compete with populist platforms ahead of the general and presidential elections next year. Debating policies is certainly healthy for the country, but it should not lead to irresponsible populist campaigns.

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