DP now vows to provide health care for all gratis

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DP now vows to provide health care for all gratis

The success of getting free school lunches for students in some cities and provinces has pushed the Democratic Party to vow to provide free health care for the entire population, something the Grand National Party is strongly opposed to.

The DP wants to model a potential Korean health-care program after the system in Sweden, which provides free health care to its entire population and is funded by the government.

Under the plan announced Thursday by senior DP officials, the Democratic Party said it wants to collect more taxes from the general public in order to be able to pay 90 percent of an individual’s medical expenses by 2015.

The remaining 10 percent would have to be covered by the patient.

According to DP officials, 62 percent of medical fees is now covered by government health insurance and 38 percent is covered by individuals.

Democratic Party officials said the government pays too little, with OECD member countries covering an average of 70 to 80 percent of medical expenses.

The new program mapped out by the DP will greatly cut the burden of health care expenses for Koreans so “everyone has equal access to health care and no one will be left out because they are too poor to afford it,” DP officials said.

The DP estimated that it needs 8.1 trillion won annually for the new program and it wants to levy a new 5.64 percent tax to finance about half of the target.

They are developing other ideas on how to pay for the rest.

“Welfare is the current of the times and it’s also a public demand,” said DP spokesman Lee Chun-seok.

“If free health care is welfare populism [under the logic of Grand National Party and the Lee Myung-bak government], then is former GNP Chairwoman Park Geun-hye’s ‘Korean-style welfare plan’ also a populist welfare policy? If the government and GNP stop the four-rivers restoration project and a tax cut for the wealthy, we can finance [a free-medical-care program].”

Welfare became one of the most hotly debated topics in political circles shortly after Park, a strong presidential aspirant of the GNP, presented a “Korean-style” welfare plan last year that centers on providing tailored social services for each stage of life.

While the DP has pushed for “universal welfare” to offer free school lunches and free medical services, President Lee Myung-bak said in his New Year’s address that the government’s overriding goal in its welfare policy is to “give people in need what they need.”

“Indiscriminately dispensing financial benefits with a limited state budget to win the favor of the public is not a solution,” Lee said on Jan. 3. “As many examples in other nations demonstrate, welfare populism results in budget crises, thus threatening the future of the nation as well as the welfare system itself.

“Giving financial aid to those who do not need any kind of help prevents such assistance from flowing into the hands of those in desperate need, which does not fit the ideals espoused in a fair society.”

GNP spokesman Ahn Hyoung-hwan said the DP is pushing populist welfare policies to win votes in next year’s general and presidential elections.

“Nothing comes free in this world and expenses for [free health care] must be financed by taxpayers,” Ahn said.

“The GNP is very concerned about whether the DP has considered financial resources when coming up with the idea of free health care.”

The GNP also points to the state-run health insurance program’s poor financial status.

The National Health Insurance Corporation reported on Jan. 3 that it ran a 1.3 trillion won deficit last year.

Its total income was 33.56 trillion won, a 7.6 percent increase from a year before, while its total spending was 34.85 trillion won, an 11.8 percent increase from a year before.

“We estimate an additional 500 billion won deficit - [1.8 trillion won] - this year and we will come up with tougher countermeasures to conduct austerity management and stabilize out financial condition,” said an NHIC official.

Meanwhile, critics who oppose the DP’s free-health plan argue that the program is discriminatory because it doesn’t have a clear-cut measuring stick for collecting the new tax from the public.

Critics argue, for example, that the new program will levy excessive taxes on salaried workers who receive fixed incomes and give leeway to self-employed businessman who can manipulate their sales records.


By Kim Mi-ju, Shin Sung-sik [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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