Sacrificing the infirm for porkThe overdue 2013 budget bill that was hurriedly rubber-stamped early in the new year after two deadlines passed was messy and certainly flawed. It turned out to be jammed with a considerable amount of pork barrel projects squeezed in by heavyweight lawmakers to win over their constituencies at the expense of crucial defense spending and welfare for the poor.
It was particularly inexcusable that lawmakers neglected medical subsidies for those with low incomes. Unlike most patients who contribute to the public health insurance program, a recipient eligible for living allowances pays nothing for care thanks to payments from central and local governments. The state allocates separate budgets for public medical care given to the underprivileged.
However, this crucial program saw its budget cut by 284.2 billion won ($267 million) from the initial central government request of 500 billion won and local government request of 140 billion won. Instead, as much as 100 billion won went to spending on pork barrel projects meant to please bigwigs in the National Assembly and those who support them.
During the campaign season, legislators promised to improve the lives of common people and protect the low-income class by creating a better welfare safety net. Yet, they have completely gone back on their word, especially when it comes to offering medical care to the impoverished. Instead, they prefer to fund infrastructure projects in their own constituencies.
Of course, they couldn’t manage to cut the medical subsidies entirely, and so the funds could last for next six months at least. But the problem comes when the budget runs short. So far, hospitals have been treating poor patients on credit because state funding is usually short while banking on additional funding in the next year. Many eventually turn away patients on the credit list.
The government proposed increases in the budget so that needy patients would no longer be denied medical care, but the legislature has cut the program short.
As the budget has been sealed and approved, there’s no turning back now, but voters must not forget how poorly and selfishly legislators treated the budget deal. They must remember the names of the lawmakers who set aside medical costs for the poor in order to fund pork barrel projects that would provide personal benefit.
Lawmakers would be wise to review their own standards of personal judgement or be prepared for harsh judgement in the next election.
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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