Gov’t to expand health coverage next year

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Gov’t to expand health coverage next year

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Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo seems deep in contemplation on Tuesday in the main conference hall of the National Assembly before a plenary session began. [NEWSIS]

The government will cover the costs of treatment at hospices for elderly people who are terminally ill or patients suffering from incurable cancer starting this year as part of an initiative to expand national health insurance (NHI) coverage, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare on Tuesday.

The ministry announced that it recently agreed on a “long-term national health insurance coverage plan,” which is to be completed by 2018 and will be expanded in phases.

The government said it will first focus on elderly patients who are terminally ill and people suffering from incurable cancer in order for them to die with dignity.

The expanded coverage will also include obstetrics and gynecology. Through this, costs for pregnant women who receive a caesarean are expected to ease next year. Patients currently pay 20 percent of the surgery fees, which will drop to between 5 to 10 percent - the same rate as women who undergo natural childbirth at hospitals.

The cost of an ultrasound examination for expectant mothers, which patients currently have to pay fully themselves, will be partly covered under the NHI next year.

As for single hospital rooms for post-natal mothers, the NHI will cover 50 percent of the fees.

Once the expansion is applied, the price of a single room, which is now 434,000 won (about $400), will drop to 217,000 won.

Patients diagnosed as extremely obese will benefit from expanded coverage for gastric bypass surgery in 2018.

For those cases, however, the ministry will set standards to avoid rampant obesity operations after examining academic opinions and surgery cases overseas.

The governments of Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom only provide health insurance coverage on gastric bypass surgery for those who have a BMI of 40 or more, or a BMI of 35 or more along with complications such as diabetes.

According to the ministry, the expected cost for the plan is 1.4 billion won by 2018, with 350 billion won required every year.

Some experts, however, are suggesting that the expanded coverage plan may cause restraints on the national health budget and called for a review.

“If the government pushes for the coverage expansion before fixing the system of imposing an insurance fee, the national insurance budget will fall below zero, facing a serious budget shortage,” said Sa Gong-jin, professor at the College of Economics and Finance at Hanyang University.

In Korea, the National Insurance System is funded by compulsory contributions from all residents and government subsidies.

A foreigner registered at the Korean Immigration Service who is an employer or an employee can apply for NHI from the National Health Insurance Corporation, the only public insurance institution operated by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

BY RHEE ESTHER, PARK YUNA [ypc3c@joongang.co.kr]
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