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‘Drastic cut in insurance coverage killed nuclear medicine’s future’
  • By Lee Min-ju
  • Published 2018.12.03 11:41
  • Updated 2018.12.03 11:41
  • comments 0

The Korean Society of Nuclear Medicine (KSNM) is urging the government to reverse its drastic cut in insurance coverage for nuclear medicine, after failing to fill even 5 percent of the quota for nuclear medicine specialists for 2019.

Only one trainee physician applied for residency as a nuclear medicine specialist for 24 positions for 2019 at 51 major university hospitals as of Wednesday, the closing day for application. The competition rate was 0.04 to 1.

In 2016, seven applied for 19 vacancies at nuclear medicine departments for 2017 at 52 trainee hospitals, with the competition rate standing at 0.37 to 1. In 2017, only four applied for 23 for 2018 at 51 trainee hospitals, with the competition rate falling as low as 0.17 to 1.

This year, the situation has become even worse. Only one applied for 24 positions for 2019.

“Despite the small quota of slightly over 20, the applicant filled only 5 percent of the quota,” KSNM said in a statement on Friday.

“The shortage in applicants was due to the Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service’s excessive reduction of the reimbursement for FDG PET (fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography), which is essential for cancer treatment.”

According to the KSNM, the number of FDG PET scans plunged from 314,000 in 2014 to 142,000 in 2017. The government cut the insurance coverage for about 2.9-14.3 percent of the FDG PET scans, the group said.

The society went on to say that the government had promised in 2014 to revise reimbursement standards FDG PET scans, but the HIRA ignored experts’ opinion and went ahead to cut reimbursement for treatments that have been effective for particular diseases.

“These cuts failed to prevent drug abuse and even undermined the foundation of medical act,” the KSNM said.

HIRA cut the coverage not because the scans were worthless or ineffective but because HIRA officials were ignorant of advanced technologies and had prejudice, the KSNM added.

The grim result of the residency application in nuclear medicine was an indication that young physicians had significant anxiety that nuclear medicine specialists might fail to carry out a professional career, the society emphasized. “The excessive cut in insurance coverage prompted hospitals to reduce or close nuclear medicine department in the past three years. Young doctors are losing their jobs,” it said.

As long as HIRA continues to arbitrarily lower reimbursements for nuclear medicine, “not only the future of nuclear medicine department but that of rational medicine will turn gloomy,” the KSNM said.

The group urged HIRA to improve reimbursement standards so that young physicians at nuclear medicine departments could fully demonstrate their learned skills for patients.


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