|A standard ward at Ewha Womans University Medical Center in Mok-dong, Seoul. (Ewha Womans Univ. Medical Center)|
The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Thursday that the government was considering expanding state insurance coverage to patients staying in semi-private wards, which are currently charged premium rates.
The plan is intended to relieve the financial burden on patients who are given limited accommodation choices when there are no beds in standard wards.
The country’s state health insurance currently covers standard ward accommodation, which is six beds per room. Premium rates are charged for patients who choose to stay in a private or semi-private ward with two beds.
The extra cost for private wards has been cited by patients as one of the public’s most burdensome medical expenses, along with the cost of caregivers and premium rates when seeing doctors of their choice. Some patients have complained that they are forced to pay much more for private wards than treatment itself.
Officials said they have two alternative plans currently being discussed. One is to increase the percentage of insurance-paid standard wards at general hospitals to 75 percent from the current 50 percent. The other is to designate rooms with four beds as standard wards at small- and medium-sized hospitals and rooms with two or three beds at large general hospitals.
Experts, however, expressed concerns that the plans would encourage patients to head for bigger hospitals rather than smaller hospitals in their neighborhoods.
The ministry plans to discuss the matter with experts and the public, and finalize the plan by the end of year. If the bill gets parliamentary approval, patients are expected to enjoy greater insurance coverage within next year.
Expanding insurance coverage for three major medical costs was a part of President Park Geun-hye’s welfare pledges.
Park promised during her campaign last year that she will relieve financial burden on patients and their families by implementing health insurance reform.
The plan of expanding state insurance coverage for private wards came four months after the ministry announced a set of health insurance reform plans.
In June, the government said it would spend about 9 trillion won over the next five years to sharply increase state insurance coverage for four major diseases ― cancer, heart disease, cerebrovascular disorders and rare and incurable diseases.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)