After MERS, autonomy is proposed for the KCDC

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After MERS, autonomy is proposed for the KCDC

In the wake of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak, the government is considering upgrading the Korea Centers for Disease Control (KCDC) and Prevention instead of separating it from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

If the plan goes through, the head of the KCDC will become a deputy-ministerial level official and the center will get personnel and budget authority independent from the ministry.

“If we separate the KCDC and make it another ministry, it will have less cooperation with health and insurance elements of the Health Ministry and also other government offices,” said Seo Jae-ho, a professor of public administration at Pukyong University, who consulted with the ministry on post-MERS measures.

The ministry thinks giving more autonomy to the KCDC would actually have the same effect as separating it while maintaining cooperation with other departments.

“The U.S. CDC is also under the Department of Health and Human Services, which means the department is in charge of the law and policies and the CDC takes care of their execution,” said an official of the Health Ministry. “If we apply this plan, the authority of the experts is going to be reinforced and the KCDC won’t have to waste time reporting to the ministry.”

The government is also planning an overhaul of the preventive system for infectious diseases.

The measures are expected to be focused on distributing patients from crowded general hospitals to other medical facilities, especially when patients are not in emergency situations.

The Health Ministry held a public hearing on Tuesday for measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and said it will revise medical regulations to make it more difficult for patients to go to general hospitals without letters from smaller hospitals.

Overcrowded general hospitals were considered a major cause of MERS spreading.

General hospitals do not provide health insurance benefits to patients without letters from smaller hospitals, but exceptions are patients coming to the family medicine section, rehabilitation section, dental departments, delivery rooms and emergency rooms.

These exceptions have been abused by people wanting to go directly to general hospitals. So the ministry is reviewing a measure to exclude the family medicine section. The number of patients at family medicine sections at the so-called top five hospitals in Seoul account for 3 percent of all their patients. The government suggested the same measure several times in the past, but the bill never was passed due to hospitals’ protests.

BY SHIN SUNG-SIK, KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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