Medical sector divides lawmakers

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Medical sector divides lawmakers

The Democratic Party yesterday set up a special committee to deter what it considers the government’s move to commercialize the medical services sector.

The response by the main opposition party comes after President Park Geun-hye’s first press conference on Monday in which she stated that the government will work to relax regulations in the industry.

The medical services sector is one of the top five sectors popular among the younger generation and one that the Park administration considers viable for domestic economic growth.

Park defined regulation as the biggest barrier to investment, saying, “I will go back to the drawing board and review all the investment-related regulations and stop all of them unless they are truly necessary.”

She vowed to proceed with policies to ease regulations in medical services, education, tourism, finance and software - the top five promising service sectors.

The president also told ruling Saenuri Party members at a dinner at the Blue House on Tuesday that regulations in the medical sector should be loosened to create more jobs, except in instances in which it would harm public well-being.

The Democrats believe the president’s pledge to eliminate unnecessary regulations in the medical sector is essentially a confirmation that she will commercialize it.

“A government policy that commercializes medical services is never acceptable,” Kim Han-gill, the leader of the Democratic Party, said yesterday at a senior lawmakers’ meeting for the main opposition. “The public nature of the medical sector is a value that should not be recklessly given up.”

“President Park Geun-hye’s enforcement of the commercialization of the health care and medical sector is absurd and pathetic,” added Jun Byung-hun, the floor leader of the party. “Who on earth are telemedicine and commercial hospitals for? They are highly risky policies that were pushed ahead with just one word from the president after she took no steps to have a social discussion or go through a sufficient review and consultation. [These policies] threaten the lives and health care of the people.”

The government last month announced it would allow medical corporations, which provide medical services to the public, to establish for-profit subsidiaries. That would make it possible for hospitals run by school foundations or nonprofit corporations to establish subsidiaries and conduct for-profit health-related services.

However, the decision prompted lobbying groups and liberals to raise fears that it will lead to an increase in hospital fees and a rise in the cost of health insurance. Doctors also worry that large hospitals will become even larger under the plan, leading to the collapse of local clinics.

However, the Saenuri has argued that allowing subsidiaries of medical hospitals to operate profit-making businesses is irrelevant to the commercialization of medical services. In Korea, medical corporations including hospitals are banned from running profit-oriented businesses.

“For-profit businesses will be operated by subsidiaries, and medical services will still be performed by nonprofit medical corporations.”

It is highly likely that medical privatization will emerge as a hot-button issue at the National Assembly’s upcoming extra session in February.


BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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