Fix welfare management firstWelfare has been the buzzword since last year’s elections. Politicians were inventive and competitive in trotting out new and expanded welfare programs during the legislative and presidential campaigns. A handful have already been legislated, such as the universal day care subsidy for children until the age of 5; insurance coverage for cancer, heart and neurological problems, and rare incurable diseases; and increased social welfare for low-income people. Because the welfare programs were fast-tracked and expedited with unprecedented force and scale, the infrastructure failed to catch up, resulting in a huge waste of public funds.
According to the JoongAng Ilbo’s investigative report on welfare spending, the free day care service that won unanimous bipartisan approval in March is a mess. The central and local governments are constantly in conflict over lack of funding. Despite its public budget, the day care program is poorly managed and is causing serious leakage. Allowances were handed out for double the actual day care service time, costing a waste of an estimated 1.01 trillion won ($943 million) a year.
The medical sector is no different. Since February 2009, the individual share of medical costs for the four major diseases was incrementally reduced to 5 percent from 10 percent. But such subsidies were handed out for general diseases as well. There must be a state appraisal system to review public insurance coverage before settlements are paid out. Experts advise that the medical welfare structure should be revised to meet the needs of patients rather than practitioners. They suggest insurance coverage on care-giving instead of medical coverage to maximize the effectiveness of the limited budget.
Theft and misappropriation of spending is also serious. About 7,392 basic monthly allowance payments to the poor went into the wrong hands last year alone. Similarly, 48,989 payments in basic pension funds were misplaced.
But because the state electronic network in the social welfare management system lacks updated information on beneficiaries, misplaced payments cannot be stopped. Despite a surge in the welfare-related workload, staff and infrastructure have not been increased and upgraded. The government should immediately revise redundant workers and projects, establish welfare centers in smaller district units, create a three-stage review system for welfare payouts and standardize welfare-related work. Effective management of the welfare bureaucracy to stop misspending and leakage is more urgent than creating new programs.
The political sector should also change its mindset on welfare policy. It should not be used as bait to win votes and popularity.