Doctors threaten to strike amid medical dispute

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Doctors threaten to strike amid medical dispute

In an escalating standoff over the government’s plan to deregulate the medical sector, the ruling and opposition parties locked horns with each other as a doctors’ association vowed to launch a strike in protest.

Choi Kyung-hwan, the floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, accused the opposition party yesterday of instigating controversy and politicizing the medical sector issue.

“The Democrats are using scare tactics [to influence the public’s opinion] about President Park Geun-hye’s proposal, bringing up the word privatization,” the floor leader said.

At the heart of the controversy is a proposal to allow hospitals to set up for-profit subsidiaries and let large medical centers and university hospitals adopt remote medical treatments.

“The establishment of the subsidiary and remote medical services has nothing to do with privatization,” Choi continued. “It would not lead to cost hikes whatsoever. The Democrats are trying to use the issue to their advantage ahead of local elections.”

The opposition Democratic Party, which formed a special committee on Wednesday to deter the move, claimed that the plan will pave the way for the privatization of the medical sector. The party said that the new subsidiary would lead health care entities to focus on profit-seeking activities.

Kim Han-gill, leader of the Democratic Party, said that easing the regulation would entice medical centers to intensively pursue profit-making activities. He also likened the president’s approach to “pariah capitalism,” a term coined by sociologist Max Weber that describes the unpopular economic activity that Jewish people were forced to do as outcasts, specifically money-lending. Kim’s definition is more a reckless expansion of for-profit activities in social and financial fields.

“The Park administration sees the medical sector as an industry that should pursue the bottom line, but the medical sector should serve the public’s health and interests,” he said.

Doctors have also weighed in on the debate. The Korean Medical Association said yesterday that it is set to stage a rally today to mark the beginning of a protest against the government. The group warned that some members of the association could launch a strike as early as Monday. However, the walkout would not cause major disruptions, with participants in the rally numbering only about 550.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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