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Allow For-profit Hospitals

Posted November. 06, 2010 10:11,   


Taiwan will reportedly build a medical and tourism zone for foreigners in the vicinity of Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei. The island country aims to attract 45,000 medical tourists from abroad by building hotels and hospitals in the zone over the next four years. Taiwan’s plan to provide medical services for 30 percent cheaper than those in Hong Kong and the U.S. is expected to deal a blow to Korea’s burgeoning medical tourism sector, which has begun attracting foreign patients.

Japan, whose medical care is considered the best in Asia, will join hands with hospitals and tour agencies to begin full-blown efforts next year to draw foreign patients. Malaysia has also announced tax breaks for hospitals specializing in medical tourism and other measures to attract medical tourists. Without drastic action, Korea cannot compete with leaders in the global medical care market such as Singapore and Thailand.

The number of foreign patients in Korea jumped from 16,000 in 2007 to 60,000 last year, showing the country’s potential in medical tourism. With medical schools traditionally drawing the best and the brightest in Korea, the quality of domestic medical services is high despite relatively lower prices than in the West. A growing number of well-heeled patients in the U.S., Russia and the Middle East seek medical treatment in Korea. The Korean government is standing idly by, however, leaving everything in the hands of individual hospitals and maintaining heavy regulations in the medical sector.

If Korea attracts more wealthy foreign patients by developing its medical sector, this will create more jobs and earn more dollars. To this end, the industry should be allowed to draw capital to provide more quality services. Singapore became the first Asian country in 1983 to adopt a for-profit hospital system to allow businesses and foreigners to invest in and establish such facilities. By drawing private investment, Singaporean hospitals are equipped with cutting-edge medical facilities and luxurious wards. This has helped the city-state boost its competitiveness in the global medical care market, with the number of foreign patients skyrocketing from 90,000 in 1999 to 630,000 last year.

By contrast, the Korean government has reviewed the introduction of for-profit hospitals for five years. A revision to the law on Jeju Self-Governing Province can allow for-profit hospitals on a limited basis, but Jeju is reluctant to do so on the grounds that it is premature. The province is being swayed by the negative perception that for-profit hospitals will cause polarization in medical services. Jeju should look to minimize the adverse effects of for-profit hospitals instead of rejecting them outright. Health and Welfare Minister Chin Soo-hee said the time is not ripe for for-profit hospitals, the same thing his predecessor Jeon Jae-hee said. Chin must realize, however, that further delay of for-profit hospitals will cause Korea to fall behind in the global medical care market.