Consider the patientsA group of doctors agreed to a decision by the Korean Medical Association to refuse treatment for a week from July 1 to protest the government plan to implement the diagnosis-related group payment system. The groups are comprised of ophthalmologists, obstetricians, orthopedic surgeons and otolaryngologists.
The plan to deny non-emergency surgeries in seven categories that will be grouped together for fixed rates of insurance reimbursement at clinics from next month and in larger hospitals from July next year is meant to function as a collective protest against the new system.
Whatever the reason, doctors cannot be excused for breaking the Hippocratic Oath by neglecting patients to protest against a government policy, no matter how strongly they may disagree with the change in policy. They are, after all, doctors and not policymakers. The unprecedented strike by doctors and surgeons can impair public credibility and faith in the highly respected profession. In an admirable move, a separate organization of 99 specialized clinics announced that they will not be joining the collective action.
The new fee model is already commonly used in other advanced countries, and it can help rationalize medical costs by setting rates based on patients’ diagnoses rather than simply paying whatever costs hospitals decided to put on their bills. Koreans are among the world’s biggest spenders in medical services and per capita healthcare expenditures are growing at double the average rate of medical costs among members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
The OECD has been advising Korea on the implementation of the new fee payment system and has warned in the past that the country will eventually be faced with unsustainable medical costs under current reimbursement system. The national health insurance system could eventually be in danger of collapse should we not fix the way we pay for medical care right now. At the end of the day, the public will have to pay more for health coverage if we don’t make the proposed changes as soon as possible.
The government should take more resolute and aggressive action to protect the public health, and doctors should think of their patients first.