Gov’t threatens legal action on strike doctors

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Gov’t threatens legal action on strike doctors

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said yesterday it will take tough legal action against doctors threatening to lay down their stethoscopes and scalpels to protest a new fee system that will cost them profits.

The ministry’s announcement came a day after four groups of doctors -ophthalmologists, obstetricians, orthopedic surgeons, and ear, nose and throat doctors - agreed to strike for a week starting in July to protest the government’s plan on enforcing the new fee system based on diagnosis-related groups, or DRG, at nationwide hospitals and clinics.

The Korean Medical Association, which has 90,000 members mainly from general hospitals, met with the heads of the doctors groups and persuaded them to take part in the strike.

“By instigating medical institutions and doctors to join a strike, the Korean Medical Association violates the country’s Fair Trade Law, and hospitals refusing to give treatment to patients are also violating the medical law,” said Lee Chang-jun, head of the ministry’s health and medical policy team, yesterday, at a press briefing. “The government can file criminal charges against hospitals and doctors, whose medical licenses can be suspended.”

The DRG system categorizes patients into seven different groups based on their illnesses and disorders and sets a fixed price for each group of procedures. The seven classifications subject to flat-rate fees are cataract surgeries, tonsillectomies, appendectomies, hernia operations, hemorrhoid surgeries, hysterectomies and C-sections.

The new system was introduced last month as part of efforts to reduce overall health insurance costs and to avoid unnecessary treatments. The doctors argue that the quality of medical treatment will deteriorate as their profits are reduced. The KMA has requested the government suspend the new system for one year.

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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