Dialogue, not strikesDoctors of the Korea Medical Association have decided to go on a general strike to protest the government’s proposals for deregulating the medical industry and making it more profitable. We cannot but be disappointed by the doctors - one of the most respected groups in society - resorting to such extreme measures that could jeopardize lives in the aftermath of the unsettling rail workers’ strike. Even though the strike will not start until March, the vote for collective action in itself stigmatizes doctors as a selfish group. The KMA in July 2012 threatened to go on strike to protest the government’s new medical service pricing system. It dropped the plan due to strong public opposition, but not before tarnishing its image.
Leaders of the KMA are provoking doctors, telling them the new measures are really about liberalizing the medical sector. Roh Hwan-kyu, head of the association, has a point that there are many ways to interpret deregulation as privatization. Sales of public medical institutions to the private sector, licensing for-profit hospitals and the abolishment of the ban on medical care facilities turning away publicly insured patients could be moves toward privatization. But the government proposal to allow remote medical checkups through telecommunications devices and let hospitals run subsidiaries are not. Still, the KMA has pulled in the usual cheerleaders - opposition politicians and civic groups - to pressure the government.
Not all the doctors in the KMA are so senseless. During recent marathon meetings, members of the executive council persuaded hard-liners to push back the strike timetable to March and the association proposed talks with the government. The government should listen to the arguments and concerns of the KMA. For instance, long-distance medical examinations could be allowed for patients in remote areas and prisons, but not necessarily in well-served urban areas.
Of course Korea would be wise to apply its excellent information and telecommunications technology to the medical industry, but there is no need to rush. If there is sufficient demand for Internet-assisted medical exams, doctors will naturally find them a positive, too. There is middle ground if both sides are willing to compromise.
The government’s proposal to allow hospitals to operate for-profit subsidiaries is needed for the long-term financial health of hospitals. Again, these disagreements are not that difficult to resolve. The government and the KMA should use dialogue to work together and come up with more effective, future-oriented medical services.