Deal with doctors stokes fears of medical fee hikes

By Lee Hyun-jeong
  • Published : Mar 18, 2014 - 20:53
  • Updated : Mar 18, 2014 - 20:53
South Korean doctors and the government reached an agreement on a set of hot-button issues such as a trial run of telemedicine services, but civic groups voiced concerns on Tuesday about a possible hike in medical costs in connection with the agreement.

On Monday, the Korean Medical Association, the country’s largest group of medical doctors, and the Ministry of Health and Welfare worked out agreements over telemedicine and for-profit subsidiaries for hospitals, about a week after doctors launched a one-day strike in protest of the envisioned policies.

Based on the results, the KMA is voting on whether to launch the six-day walkout slated for next week.

Civic groups took issue with the part of the agreement concerning the powerful insurance review body. Doctors and the government agreed to reorganize the members of the health insurance policy review committee in charge of deciding medical fees and policies, to represent the views of doctors and the state fairly.

Currently, 24 committee members are equally divided into three groups: insurance subscribers, medical service providers and a “public interest” group comprised of figures such as scholars and civic activists. The latter eight-member group has thus far been handpicked by the government, but the new pact changes the rules, allowing for four of them to be selected by medical service providers.

Civic group members argue that under the new membership structure the new committee is likely to support the views of doctors.

“The committee already represents the views of doctors since over half of the subscriber representatives and some public interest members are actually pro-doctors,” said an official of the Korean Confederation of Medical Activist Groups for Health Rights.

Doctors have long called for an increase in medical fees, citing financial difficulties caused by unrealistically low medical costs set by the state health insurance system.

Civic groups pointed out that the doctors’ deal with the government could eventually lead to an increase in medical fees.

“Doctors only ensured their interests by staging a conflict with the government,” said the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice. “The results of the agreement showed that the strike was not a protest against (the state’s push to allow) for-profit subsidiaries for hospitals.”

Doctors claimed that the restructuring of the committee had nothing to do with increasing medical fees.

“The unreasonable structure of the committee has not been fixed since the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea pointed out the problem in 2004. The government just agreed to resolve the problem,” said the KMA.

By Lee Hyun-jeong  (