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Seoul to expand health insurance coverage

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Published : 2014-02-11 20:32
Updated : 2014-02-11 20:32

The government said Tuesday that it would expand the scope of medical coverage by the state-run health insurance fund to reduce the financial burden on patients and their families and increase the overall service quality.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said in a policy report to President Park Geun-hye that the government would slash the number of doctors allowed to charge additional fees from patients from the current 9,900 to 3,300 by 2017, a year before her term ends. The ministry also plans to increase the portion of insurance-paid wards to 80 percent and expand the number of nurses to partly replace the role of private caregivers.

The plans are the latest attempts to implement Park’s presidential campaign pledges. During her campaign in 2012, the president promised that national health insurance would cover all the costs of employing caregivers and premium rates imposed on patients seeing the doctors of their choice and hospital room upgrades.

The plans, however, are expected to cause an increase in insurance premiums, as they will require additional funding of up to 4.6 trillion won ($4.28 billion) over the next four years.

The government expects that the additional costs will increase insurance premiums by an average of 1 percent. Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo said that the government would minimize the increase in insurance fees by efficiently managing the existing funds.

The national insurance program will also include not only those already diagnosed with dementia but also people who have shown minor symptoms of the disease. The government plans to offer up to 72 hours of respite care for the families of Alzheimer’s patients.

The Health Ministry’s report was part of the third round of policy briefings to the president. The ministries of labor and gender equality also joined the session, which covered a wide range of new policy ideas on job creation and welfare.

Park has ordered ministries to introduce a life cycle health and welfare system, with programs tailored to all age groups, from newborns to senior citizens. The plans seek to ensure that people can secure jobs and a stable income throughout all stages of life.

“The new government aims to create a virtuous circle of welfare and growth. In order to realize the new paradigm we have to stabilize the new employment and welfare system tailored to all age groups,” Park said before receiving the policy reports from the three ministers.

The president also urged the parliament to pass pending bills on new basic pension programs for elderly citizens and disabled people, and improved plans to better support low-income families.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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