500W extra now charged for Saturday doctor visitsPeople going to medical clinics for consultations or treatments on Saturday mornings will now be charged an extra 500 won ($0.45) to cut down on their numbers.
The new charge has been levied at local clinics and oriental medicine clinics but not university or general hospitals.
The change, implemented Saturday, is expected to inconvenience office workers who can’t go for medical treatment on weekdays.
“Even though [500 won] is not a large amount, the rise in medical expenses comes as a huge pressure along with the rise in taxes and transportation costs,” said an office worker named Kim Young-joo, who often goes to hospitals on Saturday morning to receive treatment for back pain.
Hospitals previously charged 4,200 won for consultations on weekdays, 4,700 won on Saturday mornings and 5,200 won on Saturday afternoons. Since the change, consultation fees on Saturday mornings now stand at 5,200 won.
Some doctors have complained about having to work all day on Saturdays, while consultation fees have been evolving since 2013.
A committee in the Health Ministry passed a proposal in June 2013 to increase the fee. The enforcement ordinance was passed by the Cabinet.
The basic medical fee for Saturday mornings has been raised by 30 percent since October 2013, from the original 4,200 won to 5,200 won.
However, in order to delay the increase, the National Health Insurance Service covered the additional expense of 1,000 won from October 2013 to October 2014.
Subsequently, the subsidy was cut in half and patients had to pay 4,700 won on Saturday mornings.
Beginning this month, the subsidy ends. However, senior citizens 65 and over will only be required to pay the higher medical fee if their medical bill is over 15,000 won.
In order to clarify that the change was not motivated by profit, a physician surnamed Jung who runs a hospital in Gwanak District, southwestern Seoul, posted a memo at the reception desk informing patients why the charge has been increased.
“I wrote the memo in case people who frequently visit the hospital on Saturday misunderstand,” the doctor said.
Gang Ro-sa, 25, is among many office workers disappointed by the increase.
“Even though I understand how inconvenient it is for health care workers to have to work on both weekdays and Saturdays, I’ll be forced to drop by hospitals during working hours on weekdays,” she said.
Kim Joo-hyun, a spokesperson for the Korean Medical Association, said doctors who work on Saturday to provide medical services should be rewarded with extra compensation.
Still, some physicians have their concerns. “I’m worried that clinics may be viewed as selfish or greedy,” said an otolaryngologist who runs a hospital in Jung District, central Seoul.
BY SON GUK-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]