Opposition politicians continued to blast President Moon Jae-in for his social media post Wednesday, in which he thanked nurses for their efforts without mentioning doctors, who are currently taking industrial action against proposed health care reforms.
Thousands of medical interns and resident trainee doctors have been on strike since last month, calling on the government to scrap its plan to increase the quota of students admitted to medical schools and open a new public medical school to boost the number of doctors.
On Wednesday, Moon extended his gratitude to nurses for their service in his Facebook post, mentioning that they are said to be facing “criticism and verbal abuse” as patients’ inconvenience mounts and that nurses faced an additional burden from the pandemic and the doctors strike.
“The expression (used in news reports) is ‘medical staff,’ but the people are well aware that most of those staff are nurses,” he said.
Opposition politicians accused Moon of dividing Koreans again at a time of crisis.
“This is a president who divides even the word ‘medical staff’ into doctors versus nurses,” People Power Party spokesperson Kim Eun-hye said on Thursday. The PPP is the new name of the main opposition United Future Party.
“Was he ordering nurses to wage a proxy war against doctors?”
Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the same party said, “instead of presenting solutions, he is instigating hardworking nurses to create a confrontational setup against the doctors. Has he given up being a president?”
Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, an independent, said, “As if driving a wedge among Koreans wasn’t enough, now he’s coming between doctors and nurses. The piece of writing was just shallow, immature and unpresidential.”
Minor opposition People’s Party spokesperson Ahn Hye-jin said in a commentary, “With the nation broken into pieces with countless divisive acts, the people will no longer tolerate another veiled attempt to drive a wedge between the heroes of (the battle against) the coronavirus.”
“By all means, we hope (Moon) realizes that the utmost task of the president is to bring the people together,” she said.
Surveys showed that most Koreans, who are benefiting from a user-oriented public health insurance system that offers quality medical service at relatively low costs, support the government’s policy to increase the number of doctors. The quota for medical students has been unchanged since 2006.
Most doctors, including private practice physicians, however, are against the government’s plan, claiming that Korea already has enough doctors, and the problem lies in the geographical imbalance in the supply of doctors and a shortage of doctors in certain fields.
To tackle the regional health care imbalance, over half of medical doctors said in a recent survey conducted by the nation’s civil rights watchdog that the public health insurance program must be fixed.
Some Koreans agree that Korea’s national health insurance system is worrisome.
“I have lived in the US, France, Singapore and South Korea, and I’ve heard about the health care system in the UK, and I’m pretty sure Korea’s national health insurance system is the best in the world for the patients. These days, no one dies in Korea because he can’t afford surgery or treatment - they are so much more affordable compared to any other country I know,” said Lee Jin-kyung, a Korean citizen who currently resides in the US.
“It’s good that we can get quality medical service at a fraction of the cost in other countries, but sometimes I wonder - how is this possible? Compared to other countries, there must be greater burden on the doctors and the hospitals.”
Some Koreans including Jung Yoon, who works at a reinsurance company, say that the relatively low price of medical service in Korea has led to problems such as excessive treatments by smaller hospitals that have to make money somewhere, hospitals in provincial regions suffering from chronic losses, and doctors having little choice but to flock to certain “lucrative” fields such as plastic surgery and dermatology even if some of them want to become general surgeons or trauma surgeons.
Instead of looking into how the government and the medical community can address such problems, Moon’s office and key members of the ruling Democratic Party are resorting to the wedge-driving strategy, critics of the administration say.
The “you are either with us or against us” framing is their oldest strategy, and can be seen in their stance toward Japan, according to the critics.
Former Justice Minister and then Moon’s senior aide for civil affairs Cho Kuk wrote in his Facebook post about Japan’s economic retaliation in July last year, “What is at stake is not whether you’re a progressive or a conservative. It comes down to whether you’re patriotic or aiding the enemy.”
A researcher at the DP’s think tank at the time said in his report that South Korea’s conflict with Japan would have “a positive effect” on the ruling party’s performance in the parliamentary elections.
Regarding its latest economic and property policy, the Moon administration has been criticized for dividing landlords and tenants as it scrapped a property rent system that required landlords to register as “lease business operators” for tax benefits and railroaded three pieces of legislation on property lease including one that caps the amount of rent.
People Power Party Rep. Yoon Hee-sook said, “Whoever wrote this law believes the tenants are the people who will vote for them, and that they don’t need to protect the landlords as our own people.”
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com