MB vents pique over ministry’s drug decision

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MB vents pique over ministry’s drug decision

Baffled by the health minister’s decision to maintain a ban on over-thecounter drugs from being sold in convenience stores and supermarkets, the Lee Myung-bak administration yesterday said more discussions will take place on a loosening of the restrictions.

President Lee was exasperated with Minister of Health and Welfare Chin Soo-hee’s Friday decision to keep in place regulations that prohibit drugs from being sold outside pharmacies, the JoongAng Ilbo reported Tuesday, quoting Blue House sources.

Lee was told about the health minister’s decision on Tuesday by his senior secretary for employment and social welfare, Chin Young-kon. Multiple sources at the Blue House said Lee didn’t hide his anger during the meeting.

After Lee was briefed that the Grand National Party was reluctant to lift the ban due to pressure from the Korean Pharmaceutical Association, the president scolded his aides for having failed to come up with a good strategy on the issue.

Lee singled out Minister Chin, a Grand National Party politician, in expressing his displeasure, another official said.

Analysts had expected the ban to be maintained because of pressure from pharmacists, despite the fact that the public wants more convenient access to over-the-counter treatments like aspirin, antacids and cough syrup.

Lee himself seemed to want the ban lifted.

During the Health and Welfare Ministry’s yearly reporting session with the president last December, Lee pointedly asked Chin if Koreans can buy over-the-counter drugs at supermarkets, citing the United States as an example.

Although Lee’s remarks were interpreted by his aides as an order to lift the ban, Chin said later that the president was merely asking a question, not giving an order.

In January, Chin met with pharmacists in the Seongdong District in Seoul, which elected her as its legislator in 2008, and she told them, “Nothing will happen to worry you.” After she was appointed health minister in August 2010, Chin kept her seat with the Grand National Party.

“Despite the president’s order and public demands, Chin has not budged,” said Kwon Yong-jin, professor of medical policy at Seoul National University’s College of Medicine. “Whom is the ministry serving?”

The presidential office yesterday tried to play down the rift by denying that Lee was furious at Chin.

“During a meeting with senior secretaries on Tuesday, President Lee received a report about the ministry’s decision,” said Kim Hee-jung, presidential spokeswoman.

“The president just repeated his position that the government must take into account what would be more convenient to the public,” Kim said.

Analysts say the politiciansturned-ministers in the administration are all wary of alienating business groups like pharmacies ahead of general elections next year.

Another politician-turned-minister said yesterday that lifting the ban was bound to be controversial.

“It is a matter involving conflicting interests of different groups and also an issue of public convenience,” Minister of Strategy and Finance Bahk Jae-wan said yesterday. “I think it is natural for the discussion to be difficult.”

Bahk also said that a panel under the health ministry was about to discuss reclassifying drugs and that the process isn’t over.

“I understand the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s hardship,” he said. “This might be like the way a person lowers his body before making a leap. We should all show support.” Another politician-turned-minister also made similar remarks.

Lee Jae-oh, President Lee’s minister without portfolio who mainly handles political affairs and who is a GNP lawmaker representing Seoul’s Eunpyeong District, attended a meeting of the district’s pharmacists in January.

“The Ministry of Strategy and Finance is pushing a plan to allow supermarkets to sell drugs,” he was quoted as saying by sources. “But I will stop it.”


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
“장관이 사무관처럼 … ” MB, 진수희에게 격노
약 수퍼판매 유보 보고 받고 “국민에게 필요한데 왜 … ”

감기약·소화제 등 일반의약품(OTC) 수퍼마켓 판매가 사실상 무산된 데 대해 이명박 대통령이 크게 화를 냈다. 7일 수석비서관회의에서 진영곤 청와대 고용복지수석이 보건복지부가 지난 3일 일반의약품의 편의점·수퍼마켓 판매를 유보한 과정을 보고한 자리에서다. 이 대통령은 보고를 받자 “국민에게 필요한 조치인데 왜 그런 결정이 내려졌느냐”며 크게 화를 냈다고 복수의 청와대 관계자들이 전했다.

 이날 회의에서 참모들이 “약사회 반발 때문에 한나라당에서도 이 정책을 당장 추진하긴 어려워졌다고 한다”고 보고했다. 그러자 이 대통령이 “전략을 잘 세워서 성사시켰어야 하는데 그걸 못 했느냐. 안타깝다”는 취지의 발언을 했다는 것이다. 다른 관계자는 “대통령이 ‘도대체 사무관이 하는 것처럼 일을 하느냐’며 화를 냈다”며 “이 대통령이 진수희 장관을 거명하면서 화를 냈다고 들었다”고 말했다.

 이 대통령은 지난해 12월 보건복지부의 업무보고를 받는 자리에서 “콧물이 나면 내가 아는 약을 사 먹는다. 그러면 개운해진다. 미국 같은 데 나가 보면 수퍼마켓에서 약을 사 먹는데 한국은 어떠냐”고 진 장관에게 말했다. 사실상 수퍼판매가 가능해지도록 하라는 지시였다. 그런데도 그 지시는 진 장관 벽에 부딪혀 더 나가지 못했다. 당시 진 장관은 “(대통령이) 수퍼 판매를 허용하라고 한 게 아니라 모르는 사실을 물어본 것”이라고 엉뚱한 해석을 내놨다.

 결정판은 1월 초 자신의 지역구인 서울 성동구약사회 정기모임이었다. 여기서 진 장관은 “여러분이 걱정하는 일은 없을 것”이라고 말했다. 다분히 다음 총선을 의식한 듯한 발언이었다. 정부 고위 관계자는 “대통령이 지난해 12월 이후에도 수차례 일반약 수퍼 판매 허용을 지시했지만 장관이 부정적인데 관료들이 움직이겠느냐”고 말했다. 이런 리더십 부재가 의사와 약사의 갈등을 키웠고 결국 7일 대한의사협회가 진 장관 퇴진을 요구하고 나선 것이다.

 일반약 수퍼 판매는 70~80%의 국민이 찬성한다. 그런데도 진 장관은 그동안 “이런저런 대안을 검토하고 있다”고 피해가다 결국 3일 수퍼 판매 유보라는 결론을 냈다. 서울대 의대 의료정책실 권용진 교수는 “대통령의 지시에도, 국민의 요구에도 움직이지 않는다”며 “도대체 누굴 위한 복지부냐”고 지적했다.

 진 장관의 뒤에는 이재오 특임장관이 있다. 1월 초 진 장관의 성동구 발언 하루 뒤 이 장관도 자신의 지역구인 은평구약사회 모임에서 “기획재정부에서 수퍼 판매를 추진하는데 내가 못하도록 하겠다. 약사님들은 안심하셔도 좋다”는 취지의 발언을 했다.

  대한의사협회 경만호 회장은 7일 긴급 기자회견에서 “더는 침묵할 수 없다. 진수희 보건복지부 장관은 모든 책임을 지고 사퇴할 것을 강력히 촉구한다”고 말했다. ‘가정상비약 약국 외 판매를 위한 시민연대’도 8일 회의를 열어 진 장관 퇴진을 촉구할 예정이다.

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