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Allowing Foreign Hospitals in Inchon SEZ to Treat Korean Patients is under Consideration

Allowing Foreign Hospitals in Inchon SEZ to Treat Korean Patients is under Consideration

Posted August. 14, 2003 21:34,   


Establishment of a foreign hospital with 1,000 beds in which both Korean and foreign capital is invested, is planned within the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the Inchon area.

The Korean government also decided to consider allowing not only foreigners but also locals to practice at the hospital.

Minister Kim Hwa-jung of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) held a press conference yesterday, in which he announced the government`s plan to nurture a hub hospital in North East Asia by allowing establishment of foreign hospitals in the SEZ by 2008.

The Ministry aims to attract patients from abroad including those from China, Japan, and Taiwan, as well as local patients who typically travel to foreign countries for treatment, whose numbers are estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 annually.

So far, foreign hospitals including the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Harvard Medical Center of the U.S. as well as MD Anderson have showed interest in building hospitals in the Inchon SEZ.

Minister Kim explained that the ministry would consider expanding the plan to areas such as Busan and Gwangyang which might also possibly be designated as SEZs.

The Ministry plans to allow only a general hospital of foreign nationality within the SEZ.

A joint investment of local and foreign capital is under review in order to realize the concept of building a regional hub hospital.

To realize the ambitious plan, Minister Kim said that consultation would take place with the Inchon Metropolitan City government to seek ways to improve the legal framework and provide support, such as revising laws on designating and managing the SEZ while reflecting various opinions from relevant groups.

However, it is yet to be decided to whether local patients can use the foreign hospital in the special zone since the Ministry announced that it required thorough reviews over granting the access of locals.

As Korea`s national health care reimbursement system cannot cover the medical fees of the foreign hospital, it would be almost impossible for average Korean citizens to afford the expensive medical costs associated with the proposed facility.

This barrier has brought about a strong backlash from civic groups in the nation, heralding bumpy roads ahead.

Civic groups, such as the Citizens` Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ) expressed opposition to the Ministry`s plan, saying that an allowance for foreign medical practice could destabilize the foundation of public medical service centers.

Civic groups, claiming that if local citizens are allowed to use the foreign hospital, state that discontent may arise from those who cannot afford the cost. Controversy is expected over this issue while civic groups criticize the system as fair only for the rich.

Dong-Won Kim daviskim@donga.com