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SK leader suggests setting up committee to break logjam

Lee Jae-myung, the main opposition Democratic Party of South Korea (DPK) leader suggested establishing a special committee within the National Assembly to address the ongoing conflict between the government and doctors.

Lee held the party’s Supreme Council meeting for the first time since the April 10th general election, emphasizing the necessity of gathering people’s wisdom to achieve a harmonious and comprehensive resolution to the doctors’ striking against the government’s decision to increase medical school enrollment quotas. He proposed that the National Assembly form a “special committee to discuss the healthcare system,” with the participation of the ruling and opposition parties, the government, the medical community, and civil society.” Lee emphasized the committee’s focus on addressing all-around issues, including the expansion of medical school quotas, which triggered the current medical-government conflict, as well as specific policies to tackle public, essential, and local healthcare concerns—the original intention behind the government’s decision to increase medical schools enrollment.

As a prerequisite for establishing the special committee, the opposition party leader urged the government to “abandon its obsession with the suggested quotas of 2,000.” He also called on doctors to “return to the field immediately.”

Before the 22nd general election, President Yoon Suk-yeol proposed forming a “social council for healthcare reform” to discuss expanding medical school quotas and addressing essential and rural healthcare issues. Yoon’s proposal would place the social council under the presidency and allow the government, medical, educational, and patient organizations to participate. On the other hand, Lee proposes to set up a council in the National Assembly that includes the government, the medical community, patients, and political parties as participants.

Amidst the ongoing medical crisis which lasted 60 days, there is an assessment that the Democratic Party, which achieved a landslide victory in the recent general election and aims to win the next presidential election, is endeavoring to take the lead in resolving the medical-government conflict. In 2000, during the Kim Dae-jung administration, a similar situation unfolded. At that time, the medical crisis lasted for more than four months, starting in February, as doctors rebelled against the government’s policy of separating prescribing and dispensing drugs. However, the conflict was resolved in June of that year when President Kim and Saenuri Party Chairman Lee Hoe-chang agreed to amend the Pharmaceutical affairs law during a meeting.

The presidential office and the government have not shown an official response to the party leader’s proposal. However, there are concerns within the government that if the Democratic Party takes the lead in resolving conflict between the government and doctors, it could completely lose control of national affairs to the main opposition party. A presidential office official stated, “The government is prioritizing the establishment of the social consultative group proposed by President Yoon,” adding, “It is not clear how the government will respond to the Democratic Party’s proposal in parliament.” Some argue that prompt restoration of medical services should proceed without delay, even in a situation where there is no communication between the government and doctors despite the government’s call for dialogue,

Some sectors within the medical community have expressed a willingness to positively consider the Democratic Party’s proposal for discussions in a parliamentary special committee. However, organizations like the Association of Korean Medicine and the Korean Medical Association continue to adhere to a hard-line stance, demanding the dismissal of the Ministry of Health and Welfare vice minister and a blank slate for the plan to expand medical school admissions by 2,000 students. Therefore, whether the social consultation proposed by the Democratic Party will come to fruition remains uncertain.

Currently, the Democratic Party does not seem to have concrete mediation proposals besides suggesting discussions in a parliamentary special committee. A senior Democratic Party official stated in a phone call, “It is not appropriate for us to present specific proposals. Instead, the government should step back as the government, and the doctors should step back as the doctors,” suggesting, “Wouldn’t it be beneficial for the government to consider this representative’s proposal as an exit strategy from the ongoing medical crisis?” The Democratic Party’s stance is to slightly reduce medical school admissions compared to the government’s plan (by 400-500 students) and to enforce mandatory service for some medical school graduates in local areas for more than 10 years through the establishment of public medical schools and the “regional doctor system.”

Professor Kim Hyeong-jun from Pai Chai University stated, “Medical reform is an issue that both the ruling and opposition parties should handle flexibly for the sake of the people,” suggesting, “President Yoon and this party leader could consider holding a ‘one-point’ summit.” However, Professor Kim also warned, “As expanding medical school admissions is an administrative matter, if the Democratic Party takes the lead, it may face criticism from the public for being arrogant,” adding, “Coordination among the ruling and opposition party leaders is necessary.” Professor Shin Yul from Myongji University said, “While the Democratic Party can offer its opinions, it should not worsen the situation with its approach.” The Chosun Daily

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