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Deregulation is the answer

July 26,2018
Providing health care remotely is a global trend made possible by a range of new technologies. Japan expanded it nationwide from 2015 after restricting it to remote areas such as islands in 1997. In China, so-called Internet hospitals have opened, which offer medical services exclusively online. In the United States, remote medical services are eligible for insurance benefits.

Despite the trend, which can bring a range of new medical services to people and expand the health care industry, Korea is going in the opposite direction. This new range of health services cannot be offered to the public because of vehement opposition by the medical industry even though a pilot service began in 1990. A bill allowing remote health care services failed to pass the National Assembly due to the collective selfishness of doctors. Involved parties are still stuck in an old mindset that such medical services will increase the likelihood of misdiagnoses, benefit large hospitals alone and pave the way to privatization of the medical services sector. That outmoded frame of thinking was led by the Democratic Party when it was in the opposition.

Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo backed down on earlier remarks that the government would allow remote medical services. He said he meant to revitalize exchanges of medical services online among doctors, not between doctors and patients. If the government leaves deregulation to bureaucrats, nothing will ever get done.

Fortunately, President Moon Jae-in plans to preside over a ministerial meeting to check the pace of deregulation each month. He wants to tackle a specific issue and hammer out solutions at each meeting. Former conservative administrations also declared war on red tape, but didn’t do much. They could not address taxi companies’ resistance to car-sharing services or make progress in easing strict regulations on establishing Internet banks.

The government must overcome resistance from interest groups, the passive attitudes of bureaucrats and regulatory instincts of politicians. The biggest obstacles are civic groups, including the Headquarters to Resist Privatization of the Medical Sector and Achieve Free Medical Services, which consists of 39 labor unions of medical workers. The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) also opposes easing regulations on Internet banks and privacy protection.

President Moon must serve the nation, not his support base or interest groups. He must persuade them and get support from the legislature. As he admitted, the government cannot achieve deregulation without taking a revolutionary approach.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 26, Page 30