Let them open hospitalsGreenland International Hospital, set up by a Chinese developer, was given permission to open for business in Jeju Island as South Korea’s first for-profit medical facility since a law was passed 16 years ago enabling permits to foreign for-profit hospitals. The decision was approved by Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong on the condition that its services become strictly available only to non-Korean visitors to the island. Won was right to approve the project despite a public poll against it. If an investment of foreign capital licensed by the central government could not take off due to rejections by a local government, Korea would lose credibility and invite lawsuits against the state.
Civilian organizations, unions and residents are opposing to the decision even as the hospital is restricted to non-Korean tourists and four departments of plastic surgery, dermatology, international medicine and family medicine. It can hardly be called a full-fledged hospital with just 47 beds. Civilian groups are out to push Won out of office for allowing the for-profit medical facility they claim will accelerate hospitals to seek profits and push up medical rates. They also warn of the threat to the national health insurance system. But their warnings are overstated. Some liken their dystopian outlook to the scare over the millennium bug. As we all know, the panic turned out to be overblown.
There are little grounds to be fearful of a for-profit hospital.
First of all, hospitals — big as well as small town clinics — all essentially seek profit. In a capitalist world, hospitals inevitably must make money to be sustainable.
The concerns about a surge in medical fees are entirely misled. In Greenland’s case, the hospital cannot accept Korean patients or national insurance policies. In short, its existence does not have any impact on the local medical industry and system. All hospitals in Korea have their fees under watch as they must go by national coverage guidelines. Few Koreans would fly to Jeju Island for plastic surgery or skin scare at a hospital that does not offer any insurance coverage.
Moreover, a for-profit hospital cannot be a threat to the national insurance system. All countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development except Japan and the Netherlands allow for-profit hospitals. They operate even in the United Kingdom and Sweden, where medical services are nearly publicly controlled.
The fact that it has taken a for-profit hospital 16 years to open since a related law was passed suggests how stubborn and biased Korean society can be against new concepts and change. The Moon Jae-in administration vowed not to allow any more for-profit hospitals. A business that is common in developed economies should be available here. The area is a sector that can offer decent jobs to Korea’s medical practitioners.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 7, Page 34