Insurance to cover more hospital room costs

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Insurance to cover more hospital room costs

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The government announced yesterday it will reform the health insurance system to keep patients from having to shell out money on expensive hospital rooms.

The announcement came amid growing public disgruntlement over high hospital room bills. Many patients say a stay in the hospital costs them more for the room than for their medical treatment.

The problem is that the National Health Insurance only covers stays in hospital rooms with six patients or more.

But hospitals - and especially the big hospitals in Seoul - only have a certain number of those rooms, and they make a lot of revenue from patients staying in single rooms, doubles or four-person rooms.

Patients who can’t get into a six-person room or a larger ward often are forced to take a smaller room - and pay out of their own pocket.

A single room at a large hospital in Seoul can cost as much as 480,000 won ($446) per night.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said yesterday it has two proposals. The first is to increase the ratio of insured patient rooms to 75 percent at 43 general hospitals in the country.

To do that, the ministry said some insurance coverage should be extended to cover all rooms except single rooms.

The ministry said it would consider asking patients to pay 40 percent of the charges for a double room while the rest would be covered by insurance. For a triple or four patient room, a patient would be asked to pay 30 percent.

Of all hospitals in the country, insured rooms account for 74.1 percent of total rooms.

But the figure drops to 66.7 percent for general hospitals. At the top five general hospitals in Seoul - Seoul National University Hospital, Asan Medical Center, Samsung Medical Center, Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital and Catholic University of Korea’s Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital - insured hospital rooms only account for 58.9 percent of the total.

The second proposal is to extend insurance coverage to four-patient rooms at general hospitals. For the top five hospitals, it would also extend coverage to double rooms.

“After having more consultations with related government offices, we will announce a final reform measure by December,” said the ministry.

An increasing number of hospitals are offering patients no choice but to stay at least a few days in expensive uninsured rooms, which cost anywhere from 24,000 won for a five-person room up to 480,000 won for a single.

The National Health Insurance Service surveyed 5,256 patients who were admitted to hospitals from October through December 2012, and 59.5 percent said they had no choice but to pay for uninsured hospital rooms because six-person rooms were unavailable.

“For general hospitals, it was discovered that a patient had to spend at least one day and up to three days in uninsured rooms before being transferred to insured rooms,” the National Health Insurance Service reported.

The shortage of insured rooms was found especially acute among major hospitals run by universities, such as Seoul National University and Yonsei’s Severance Hospital in Seoul.

83.7 percent of patients who paid for uninsured rooms at the top five institutions said their decision was involuntary.

One patient being treated at Severance Hospital for lung problems told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that she has spent 15 days at the hospital and had no choice but to stay in an uninsured four-patient room.

The 65-year-old patient’s bill so far has been 814,660 won for the room alone.

In 2012, 1.01 trillion won was paid for uninsured patient rooms, an increase from 972.3 billion won recorded in 2010, the state-run insurance corporation said.


BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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