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[Newsmaker] COVID-19 health spending to reach W320b this year: NHIS

Medical workers at a screening clinic of Chonnam National University Hospital, Gwangju, Aug. 21, 2020 (Yonhap)
Medical workers at a screening clinic of Chonnam National University Hospital, Gwangju, Aug. 21, 2020 (Yonhap)
The amount of money expected to be spent on coronavirus patients -- from the pre-diagnosis stage through recovery -- is expected to total close to 320 billion won ($280 million), the National Health Insurance Service said Sunday.

About one-third of the cost would be taken up at the pre-diagnosis stage, including coronavirus tests, it added.

The total number of coronavirus patients here is projected to reach 33,995 by the end of this year, 8,796 more than Sunday’s tally of 25,199, the NHIS said. That would be a daily average of 119 new patients.

From January to September, it took about $147 million to treat patients in the pre-diagnosis stage which costs up to $140 per patient, while recovery costs about $8,700 for every severely ill patient, and $628 each for patients with mild symptoms.

Patients subscribing the national health insurance are exempt from paying bills, as the state insurance agency and the Health Ministry share the entire cost.

Foreign visitors are also given free care, if their governments do the same for Korean patients, though some -- those found to have breached anti-virus rules -- are held accountable for partial payment.

Foreign patients cost about $5,200 on average for recovery. Their testing cost has yet to be finalized, but, including local residents, they accounted for 2.3 percent of the total test cost between March and August this year, which is less than their share of the population.

South Korea ended its free-for-all policy in August, when it announced only foreign visitors whose home countries treated Korean patients there for free would benefit from free COVID-19 care here.

The change was in response to growing criticism that foreign nationals were taking advantage of the policy first put in place to track every potential infection in order to curb the outbreak.

By Choi Si-young (