The Korea Times
Doctors at odds over ‘Moon Jae-in care’
Medical groups’ opinions vary on expanded insurance
Doctors and medical professionals with varying interests remain at odds over “Moon Jae-in care,” an expanded coverage of the state-run health insurance program, amid the government’s drive to control fees for medical services.
The initiative — a major campaign pledge offered by President Moon Jae-in — seeks to guarantee better access to affordable healthcare especially to the “socially vulnerable” including the underprivileged, children and the elderly.
Doctors practicing western medicine, represented by the Korea Medical Association (KMA) with some 140,000 members, have declared an “all-out war” against the measure, a move criticized by much smaller groups of doctors and medical practitioners, each represented by the Association of Korean Medicine (AKOM) with some 25,000 members and the Korea Dental Association (KDA) with some 29,500 members.
All doctors and Korean Medicine practitioners say they understand the government seeks to increase public welfare.
But the KMA claims the drive would inevitably result in massive lay-offs — mostly nurses and medical caregivers assisting doctors — due to snowballing operating costs.
Newly elected KMA President Choi Dae-zip held a press conference March 30, urging the government to withdraw a plan to insure sonograms for the upper abdomen to examine the liver, pancreas and gallbladder, saying members could go on strike April 22, 27 or 29.
“The Ministry of Health and Welfare is railroading its stance and completely dismissing our opinions,” he said during the conference.
“If the ministry continues to ignore our voices, doctors will have no choice but to halt providing medical services to the public.”
The KMA members, he added, must seek collective action to halt medical services if it is the only way to save them.
“In order for a surgeon to save a heart, the heart must be stopped for a moment. We urge the ministry to come to the negotiating table to discuss the matter from scratch.”
The strongly-worded announcement came hours after the ministry rejected the KMA’s request to withdraw the plan, saying the measure is part of a five-year plan undertaken by former President Park Geun-hye, well before the current administration.
“The government has been gradually pushing revisions to the healthcare program to insure more affordable medical services under the state-run program with continued cooperation with the doctors’ group. The KMA claiming otherwise is simply incorrect,” the ministry said.
AKOM, in response, said such a “threat to take the public hostage” to advance their own interests is against moral and ethical standards the medical professional should uphold.
“Many KMA members have exhibited the entitled mindset of the establishment, well-preserved, long-protected under a system that helped them pursue profit,” the group said.
“Any threat to the government and the public would result in distrust of medical professionals. We urge the KMA to halt any actions that might be deemed protective only of their self-interest to the point the public are subject to undue suffering.”
The group also voiced optimism that more AKOM-provided medical services would be insured under the NHIS, which they say would encourage more people to seek their services as the costs would be shouldered with the government.
Meanwhile, dentists welcomed the measure because more of the elderly will seek dental implants as a substantial part of the fee for such services will be paid by the government under Moon Jae-in care.
Spearheaded by the ministry, Moon Jae-in care seeks to have more medical services insured under the state-run National Health Insurance Service (NHIS), thereby reducing the healthcare costs of expensive checkups.
Many such services that remain uninsured thus far include MRIs, ultrasound as well as hospital room stays and nursing care, all of which a sick person cannot afford to refuse.
Under the state-run single-payer NHIS program in Korea, medical institutions have to treat patients first, and seek treatment costs from the NHIS later.
If the ministry-supervised Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service deems the expenditure unnecessary or excessive, the NHIS won’t give the amount sought by the medical institutions, in which case they have to pay out of their own revenue.
Many medical institutions have claimed the system was the main cause for continued deficits at hospitals.