Medical groups to defy reforms

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Medical groups to defy reforms

The medical community is up in arms about a range of reform measures announced by the Park Geun-hye government.

In a rare display of unity, a committee representing six medical lobbying groups announced yesterday at a press conference at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul that it will hold a rally to protest the government plans.

In particular, the groups don’t like a proposal that allows remote patient monitoring and treatment, and another that introduces for-profit hospitals owned 100 percent by investors, whose medical costs will not be covered by the state-sponsored health insurance system.

The committee said more than 20,000 doctors from around the country will participate in the rally to be held Dec. 15 at a location yet to be announced in Seoul.

“The government plan for remote medical services and the introduction of for-profit hospitals in the name of commercializing the medical service will bring major changes to the fundamentals of the medical industry,” said the committee yesterday.

It claimed that despite the huge implications of the reforms, the “government had no consultations with the medical industry.”

The Korean Medical Association, the Korean Dental Association and the Association of Korean Medicine are among the six groups represented on the committee.

On Oct. 29, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced it will submit a bill to the National Assembly to allow remote medical services. In other words, patients will be able to have consultations via telecommunication equipment.

The ministry identified specific groups eligible for the new services: patients who require constant long-term care after being diagnosed with chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure or mental diseases; old or disabled people living in remote rural areas; victims of domestic and sexual assault; people serving in the military; people working in prisons; and prisoners themselves.

Despite many promising features of the remote services, critics say that larger hospitals will have an automatic competitive edge because smaller and village hospitals will not be unable to purchase expensive telemedicine equipment.

Some skeptics also raised concerns that remote health care services will never be as good as face-to-face consultations and treatment.

Adopting the technology will also lead to a loss of jobs, the groups said.

“With remote medical treatments in place, at least 50,000 jobs in the medical industry are expected to be lost,” said the committee.

On the government’s push to allow investor-owned, for-profit hospitals, the committee said the administration is failing to recognize the potential fallout from allowing such hospitals in the country, where already 93 percent of medical services are from private hospitals and clinics (even though many are covered by national insurance).

The Korean Hospital Association also held a press conference yesterday at its headquarters in Mapo District, central Seoul, demanding that the Park government reconsider its measure to expand the number of rooms in hospitals covered by the National Health Insurance system, citing anticipated losses in profit.

As of now, only six-person rooms are paid for by the insurance. Hospitals make much more money from single and double hospital rooms not covered by insurance.

In an effort to cut down on medical costs shouldered by patients, the Health Ministry said last month it will increase the ratio of insured patient rooms to 75 percent at 42 major general hospitals in the country.

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

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