The country’s largest group of medical doctors said Thursday that they would suspend a plan to stage a nationwide strike next week, following government negotiations on contentious medical policies.
The Korean Medical Association said that over 60 percent of its members voted against staging a second walkout and agreed to accept the government’s plan to allow telemedicine and for-profit hospital subsidiaries. Doctors launched a one-day strike last week in protest of the government’s new medical policies. They expressed concerns that the new policies would create financial difficulties for neighborhood doctors and ultimately accelerate the privatization of the medical sector.
But the two sides reached an agreement on Monday to launch a six-month telemedicine pilot program next month and introduce the telemedicine bill later. They also agreed to jointly form a consultative body to reduce the possible side effects of for-profit subsidiaries.
The KMA, however, left open the possibility of another strike.
“It is more of a postponement of the walkout plan than a cancellation. If the government unilaterally pushes for medical plans without accepting experts’ opinions, it will once again face opposition,” KMA president Roh Hwan-kyu said.
Although the doctors put their protest plan on hold, the two sides still remains at odds over other contentious issues. Doctors have demanded that the government expand their participation in a review committee in charge of deciding medical fees and policies.
Currently, the committee consists of 24 representatives ― eight insurance subscribers, eight medical service providers and eight public interest members. The public interest members, comprised of various figures such as scholars or civic activists, have been handpicked by the health ministry, letting the committee lean toward the government’s side, doctors claimed.
The ministry and doctors agreed to have equal numbers of subscribers and medical service providers in the committee, allowing doctors to handpick representatives of medical service providers. While doctors interpreted the rule change to mean handpicking “half of the total public interest members,” the government regarded it as “half of the half,” excluding four seats on the government’s side.
“Nothing is officially decided on the committee reform except that an equal number of insurance subscribers and doctors will be placed. (Doctors and the ministry) will continue having talks on the issue,” said Kwon Deok-cheol, the ministry’s healthcare policy director.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (firstname.lastname@example.org)