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(LEAD) Gov't delays discussion on profit-driven hospitals

All Headlines 10:58 December 16, 2009

(ATTN: UPDATES with remarks from Cheong Wa Dae official in paras 7-9)
By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, Dec. 16 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak has expressed concern over the opening of new corporate hospitals, effectively halting discussion on whether to allow the profit-driven medical institutions, an official at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said Wednesday.

The finance ministry has been pushing to allow the opening of corporate hospitals, claiming the move will significantly improve the quality of health care and create new jobs.

The welfare ministry, however, maintains that profit-driven hospitals will lead to a rise in medical costs and effectively raise barriers to quality medical services.

President Lee voiced his concerns Monday at a weekly meeting of his top secretaries, where the two ministries reported the outcome of their separate and contradictory studies, according to the Cheong Wa Dae official.

"It is a very sensitive issue, so take more time to thoroughly review the issue," the president was quoted as saying.

Lee also said that opening new, expensive medical institutions could be seen as only benefiting the rich, the official said.

Still, the remarks did not represent either the president's opposition or approval of either side, a top Cheong Wa Dae official in charge of public relations told reporters.

"The actual message behind the president's remarks was that no matter how correct the move is, the government must thoroughly review any differences that exist between related offices and listen to public opinion until it can speak on its position and policy with one voice," Lee Dong-kwan said, adding the president acknowledged the need to eventually allow corporate hospitals.

"It is true that it (corporate hospitals) is an issue we must eventually consider in the long run. The president only noted that it would be better to approach the issue more carefully because there are certain concerns that it could undermine the country's public health care system," he told a press briefing.

The finance and welfare ministries earlier planned to hold a joint conference to release and discuss the outcomes of their independent studies, but the conference has been called off.


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