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Changes in healthcare policy expected under President Moon
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2017.05.10 15:53
  • Updated 2017.05.10 15:53
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Moon Jae-in started his term as the 19th president of the Republic of Korea Wednesday.

Various healthcare-related pledges, made by both President Moon as a candidate and his Democratic Party, will likely serve as the basis of the new government’s policy in this area.

As part of his efforts to positively deal with fourth industrial revolution, Moon will emphasize the growth of healthcare industry by, for instance, enhancing pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and medical devices, and improving drug pricing system to expedite the global advances of new medicines developed locally.

To strengthen health and medical administration, Moon is expected to increase both the responsibility and expertise of the Ministry of Health and Welfare and introduce a double vice-minister system. Moon also plans to hand the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention greater autonomy and independence, and even considers its reorganization as an independent agency. On the contrary, he will exclude the interference of fiscal authorities in social insurance system to strengthen the relevant organizations’ public accountability.

Tougher competition for small and midsize hospitals with less than 300 beds

Kim Yong-ik, Moon’s healthcare policymaker at campaign headquarters, has emphasized the need for “resolving ability gaps among medical institutions” and “solving the problem of small and midsize hospitals” about reestablishing healthcare delivery system.

“To rebuild the medical service delivery system, we must reduce competency gaps among different types of medical institutions so that patients can trust first- and second-tier hospitals,” Kim said during a workshop at the National Assembly on April 25. “Also, we will keep large hospitals from expanding recklessly.”

For small- and medium-sized hospitals, Kim said: “We can solve the problem of oversupply by approving only hospitals over a certain size and allowing hospitals to exit out of the market without suffering loss.” He also stressed the need for changing some hospitals into specialized institutions.

On revitalizing primary cares or first-tier institutions, the new government plans to enact the “Primary Care Special Law” to provide the basis for central and local governments’ support for primary medical institutions, Kim said. “To enhance the financial assistance system, the new administration will also push for reducing patients’ burdens while adding benefits,” he added.

Industry watchers note, however, the new policy, if put into action, will likely draw different responses from medical institutions.

First-tier hospitals are likely to receive relatively larger amounts of government supports under the special law, but some small and midsize hospitals may have to exit the market in a worst-case scenario.

Given Kim has continuously addressed the issue of “solving the problems of small- and medium-sized hospitals with 300 or fewer beds” to resolve the medical delivery system, even hinting at their possible exits, the chances are high that the smaller institutions will stage fierce competition for survival under the Moon administration, they said.

Minimal government interference in conflicts among different occupations

The Moon government is also likely to minimize its intervention in numerous conflicts among the various occupational categories of the medical community.

In this regard, Kim said at the parliamentary debate, "I think it is a principle that people in different occupations solve their conflicts with professional attitudes. The five major healthcare-related organizations have self-reliance and high levels of intellectual abilities. If they cannot solve problems on their own, we cannot call them professional groups. They should cultivate such skills.”

Kim went on to say, “That said, the ministry needs to make continuous efforts to help them resolve conflicts and the Assembly also ought to keep making consistent efforts.” He noted that it is best for the government to prevent problems from aggravating beyond controls in the initial stage.

Some industry experts point out, however, the government’s offhand approach might deepen inter-group conflicts, citing there are a large number of issues in which competing groups find it hard to make concessions due to pressures from their members.

Uncertain future of telemedicine

The Democratic Party has continuously obstructed the ministry’s attempt to revise the law to expand telemedicine. The party has not budged a bit from its adamant opposition to telemedicine, even in defiance of the ministry’s efforts to change some concepts of the remote medical service system.

Given the unwavering stance of the now governing party, experts said the ministry would find it hard to push ahead with legal revision, as it did in the Park Geun-hye administration.

This notwithstanding, the ministry has at least secured dome basis for continuous discussion of the issue, by changing its unit to promote telemedicine to the Medical Information Policy Division.

The ministry is expected to go ahead with its endeavor if by limiting the scope of telemedicine to medically vulnerable areas, to which even the liberal governing party has shown a positive response.

In the case of exporting the telemedicine system, the chance of success will likely differ depending on whether or not the Moon administration regards it as a “next-generation moneymaker,” the experts said.


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