Home > Health > Free medical care… only exist in Utopia?

Free medical care… only exist in Utopia?

Minhee Park

Encouraged by the electoral success of its compulsory school meal policy scheme in 2010, the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) in Korea has revealed a plan to offer free medical services for the entire population. Together with the DP’s proposals for free child care, decrease in college tuition fees, and a compulsory school meal policy, the proposal for free medical services is stocking up a growing debate on welfare.

The Democratic Party’s health care plan demands for raising the coverage of medical bills by the National Health Insurance from the current 62% to 90% over the next five years. It would also lower the ceiling for out-of-pocket payments by patients from the current 4 million won to 1 million won(1,000-3,000 USD), while extending the National Health Insurance’s reach to cover some 2.4 million low-income people who are currently excluded.

The Democratic Party estimated that the new scheme for free medical service would increase the National Health Insurance’s annual expenditure by 8.1 trillion won. According to the new plan, this spending growth of National Health Insurance can be covered by collecting more premiums from employees at companies and by increasing the government’s fiscal support.

The Democratic Party’s proposals come at a time, when the demands for reform to the health care system are growing. Korea’s health insurance system has been touted as an efficient, low-cost program to provide health care to the public. However, the current Korea’s health insurance system has its limitations. For instance, the rate of patient’s co-payment is high, a range of non covered services is broad, and low income residents are excluded on the list of the beneficiaries of medical insurance. The Democratic Party’s proposal is intended to modify these weaknesses.

The Grand National Party (GNP), the ruling party, presented a counter-argument against the DP’s free medical care proposal. The governing Grand National Party has been criticizing the DP for raising the specter of populism. The GNP based their counter-argument on the problem of sustainability of the health insurance system related to the budget problem of the National Health Insurance Corp.

The National Health Insurance Corp. presented on 3rd January 2011 that the National Health Insurance Corp. ran a 1.3 trillion won budget deficit in 2010. This year’s budget deficit is expected to be cut to 500 billion won due to a 5.9 percent increase in contributions. However, budget shortfall is forecasted to mount up gradually due to the social phenomenon, like rapid population aging, expansion of coverage, introduction of expensive medical equipment and demand for better health services.

As an objection of the opinion of Grand National Party, Dong Young Jeong, who is the member of the supreme council in the DP, insisted that the introduction of taxation of the wealthy is inevitable to run the welfare policy. In addition, he added that “If the government levies taxes on the top 0.5% income bracket, over 10 trillion won would be secured as tax revenue. Furthermore, over 20 trillion won would be secured as governmental finances in the process of enforcement.” The Democratic Party suggested that the middle class of the society would be have the same opinion about the new plan for health care.

According to International Covenant on Economic, Social and Culture Rights (

The presenters presented their subject in Korea Economic Research Institute (KERI) forum naming “A ripple effect and task of free welfare policy series” which was held at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) on 9th February 2011. <Yonhap News Agency>

) article 12, the states parties to the present covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. In addition, the article 2 of ICESR says that each state party to the present covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.

The citizens in Korea are wondering on how the two parties would compromise in free medical care debate and how the national assembly of Korea would adapt the international standard of right to health care to their system of health care.

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