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Artificial blood vessel provider to withdraw from KoreaChildren with heart ailments face crisis unable to receive surgery
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2017.04.26 15:45
  • Updated 2017.04.26 16:18
  • comments 0

Artificial blood vessels, which are indispensable for the surgery of children with congenital complex heart malformations, are in danger of supply stoppage due to the government’s low-premium, low-benefit insurance policy, doctors said Tuesday.

W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc., the sole provider of artificial blood vessels for Korea, has decided to withdraw from the domestic market in September because of the sharp price fall for its products, saying other countries could criticize the company “for providing Korean consumers at far lower prices than in other nations.”

The decision, if materialized, will threaten the lives of hundreds of infants and children born with the heart malformations a year, they said.

During a meeting with reporters, two related organizations -- the Korean Society for Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery and the Korean Society for Vascular Surgery -- criticized the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service (HIRA) for drastically cutting insurance payments and forcing the sole provider of blood vessels to leave Korea.

The lowered insurance cap pulled down the price of artificial blood vessels by 22 percent in 2012, and an additional 19 percent after the ministry and the state agency adjusted it on two occasions in 2016.

In the case of Gore’s “stretch type” (insurance code: G0434004) product, price cuts forced the company to sell them at 464,890 won ($412) domestically. The same product is sold in the United States for $728 and in China for around $1,290.

According to Gore, the price difference could anger and draw criticism from other countries, forcing them to cut prices in other markets, which is why the company decided to close down its domestic distributor, Medical C&C, by the end of September.

Professor Kim Woong-han of Seoul National University Hospital vents his frustration with the withdrawal of the sole provider of artificial blood vessel for the surgery of young heart patients, during a meeting with reporters Tuesday.

“Although there are sufficient artificial blood vessels for adults, the demand and market for pediatric blood vessels are quite small,” said Professor Kim Woong-han of Seoul National University Hospital. “Other blood vessels were forced out of the market due to poor quality. Gore’s products are exceptional in that regard.” Kim vented his frustration, saying Gore’s product is the only type of statistically proven data that has few replacements.

Sim Sung-bo, who heads the vascular surgery society, also questioned how doctors would operate on infants with heart malfunctions a few days after birth, with the only supplier virtually forced out of the market. “Who’s going to take responsibility for the possible deaths caused by the lack of blood vessels for surgery?” he asked.

The two societies stressed the government must do all to prevent deaths resulting from the lack of medical supplies, dissuading Gore from leaving Korea. “We need to make sure that companies selling good products can remain profitable,” Sim added.


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