A strike with no causeDoctors of the Korea Medical Association are mulling a general strike to protest the government’s plan to allow remote medical examinations via telecommunication devices and the establishment of for-profit hospitals. The opposition, as usual, capitalized on their threat to raise controversy over the government’s deregulation plans.
The doctors’ association regards the government’s plan to allow medical institutions to set up subsidiaries at home and abroad to attract patients as a de facto permission of for-profit hospitals. The main opposition Democratic Party head Kim Han-gill attacked the government’s move by saying it was toying with the dangerous idea of privatizing the medical sector, as it also claimed it was doing with the public rail system.
The interest group and the DP argue that privatization will lead to spikes in fees as seen in America. But they are misled. While America’s medical system is based on free-market principles, Korea’s is rooted in the public insurance systems. Every Korean must be insured with public health programs, except for about 3 percent of the very poor who receive full state coverage. Also, Korean doctors must receive patients with public insurance coverage. Without abolishing the public system, Korea’s medical sector can never be fully liberalized like America’s.
Long-distance medical examinations through an Internet connection can help improve health care for people living in remote areas, as well as seniors and disabled patients who cannot freely move around. The service could also save patients with chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes from having to travel. Possible problems like inaccuracy and culpability could be mitigated if patients registering for long-distance checkups are required to see the doctor personally for their first check-up.
It is also a stretch to think that allowing medical institutions to run subsidiaries would turn them into for-profit hospitals. For-profit hospitals refer to incorporated business, while subsidiaries can only operate auxiliary functions like R&D and funerals.
We strongly advise the association not to vote on a strike. Doctors are one of the most respectable classes in our society. Their strike in 2000 to protest the division of medical practices and pharmacies caused inconvenience to the public. Disagreements should be solved through dialogue.