The Korea Herald

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Medical spending may triple by 2020

By 배지숙

Published : May 9, 2011 - 18:55

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Ministry seeks to dissuade patients from relying on top-tier hospitals


More than 11 percent of Korea’s gross domestic product may be consumed by medical care in 2020, the Ministry of Health and Welfares said Monday, stressing the need to reform medical facilities nationwide.

Snowballing medical expenses will burden the nation’s economy as the population ages, putting further pressure on the medical budget, the authorities said.

According to the ministry, Koreans spent 73.7 trillion won ($68 billion) in 2009, or 6.9 percent of the GDP, on medical care, up 11.2 percent from a year earlier.

The government shouldered more than 58.2 percent of the expenses through the national health insurance, subsidies to medical facilities and other expenses.

The cost is expected to surge to 256 trillion won, or 11.2 percent of the GDP, by 2020. Paradoxically, the fact that more people are interested in leading a healthy lifestyle is expected to lead to longer lifespans and therefore more patients visiting medical facilities in need of care. As a result, the government may have to spend up to 154 trillion won of taxpayers’ money to sustain the system, the committee said.

“The numbers aren’t too pessimistic. In a sense, more people will become healthier and more jobs could be created to meet their health needs,” Lee Dong-wook, a ministry official, said.

“However, what we do need is to improve the efficiency of budget expenditure to a sustainable level.”

The medical expense projections came weeks after the ministry announced an outline to improve the management system of the nation’s medical facilities.

The plan calls for top-tier general hospitals to handle serious diseases rather than minor and chronic diseases. Patients visiting the so-called super general hospitals ― Samsung, Asan, Seoul National University, Seoul St. Mary and Severance ― will be charged up to 30 percent more for their drugs. The move is meant to encourage patients not to rush to the large hospitals.

Instead, the government will encourage patients with minor diseases to visit local clinics and see family doctors who can follow up on their clients’ health records over a long period, officials said.

The plan, however, has met fierce opposition from both patients and hospitals for restricting their rights to choose doctors but the ministry has stood firm.

“The reform scheme will save people from wasting time and money against useless things. The committee will focus on coming up with the details of the reform and carrying them out without imposing strains on society,” Lee said.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)