The Yoon Suk-yeol government set healthcare policies in the right direction. Still, they lacked detailed preparations for rising medical costs amid the population aging and the unclear use of physician assistants, public health experts said.
The experts raised concerns over the sustainability of Korea’s healthcare at a conference hosted by the Korean Academy of Health Policy and Management on Friday.
Professor Park Eun-cheol of preventive medicine at Yonsei University delivered a keynote presentation on the direction of the new government’s healthcare policies.
Park emphasized that the healthcare system should be innovated during the five years of the Yoon administration and proposed establishing a “health insurance innovation center.”
Park joined Yoon’s presidential election camp and drew the big picture for healthcare policies.
“Due to the population aging and low birth rates, the nation’s financial resources for health are expected to decrease, while medical costs will rise,” Park said. “Unless there is innovation in the healthcare system in the next five years of the Yoon government, the entire health system could collapse.”
Healthcare innovation is necessary to support those in need of medical services and carry out community-based, people-centered, and integrated medical welfare, he went on to say.
Rather than pushing for a few particular items for five years, the government could innovate the health system by setting up a “health insurance innovation center” proposed by the private sector.
To maintain the sustainability of the national health insurance policy, the government will have to raise insurance premiums inevitably, another expert said.
Professor Jeong Hyoung-sun of health administration at Yonsei University said the total medical cost was important in health policies.
“Current medical expenses in Korea have risen to 160 trillion won. This change is unimaginably rapid. However, there is still room for growth in medical expenses,” Jeong said.
So far, the government has signed the health insurance contract every year using a “conversion index method” and raised 4 percent in health insurance premiums in the past 10 years.
The low health insurance fees have been tolerated for the “normalization” of Korea’s healthcare.
However, considering the aging of the population, the health insurance premiums were too low, and the government should consider raising them, Jeong said.
Professor Lee Key-hyo at Inje University Graduate School of Public Health said medical costs accounted for 8.5 percent of the nation’s GDP.
However, in several years, the proportion could rise to 11-12 percent, which could devastate Korean people’s lives, he warned.
Lee said that dealing with the medical cost problem will be an important task for the Yoon government.
The Yoon administration faces the issues of the aging population, growing medical costs, and stagnating economic growth, he said.
“It is a critical time to prepare for a tougher time,” he added.
A third expert noted that the new government should clarify whether the use of physician assistants is legal before nurturing manpower in the medical community.
Professor Yoon Seok-jun of preventive medicine at Korea University College of Medicine said the Yoon government’s health policies did not include any solution for shortages of medical resources, including manpower and hospital beds.
Yoon said that small hospitals had used physician assistants widely without clear guidance on whether it was legal or illegal for the past 20 years.
“The new government rarely mentioned it. We need clear, detailed guidelines,” he said.