By Kim Jae-won
Jeon Man-bok, 53, a deputy health minister, was elected to serve a three-year term on the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO). He promised to use his new position to share Korea's advanced health insurance services with developing countries.
Jeon will be part of the 34 member board with voting rights on key global health issues. The WHO has 194 member countries, making it one of the largest special agencies of the United Nations.
"Not many countries provide high-quality universal health insurance coverage as good as we do. We have a better system than the United States, and most Asian countries. I want to help them learn from us and adopt our system," said Jeon in an interview with The Korea Times, Friday.
According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the state-run National Health Insurance Service covers between 40 percent and 70 percent of outpatient medical expenses.
In case of inpatients, the public insurance entity pays as much as 80 percent of their medical expenses thus reducing their financial burden.
Korea's health insurance system has progressively advanced since its launch in 1977. At its inception, it only offered coverage to employees in workplaces with more than 500 workers.
Two years later, it expanded the coverage to include all government officials and school teachers. Then in 1988 residents of rural areas were included in the coverage. A year afterwards the national coverage level reached an important milestone when urban residents were eventually included which brought about almost universal coverage.
He urged Korean medical experts to seriously consider taking up jobs with the WHO, which he thinks can pave the way for the nation's universal health coverage system to be replicated in other parts of the world.
"Most officials in the WHO are medical experts from all over the world. However, few Korean doctors are interested in taking those jobs because they are busy making money running their own clinics. I want them to turn their eyes to the international organization and work there, which will expand their territories."
The veteran health ministry official said that he also seeks to reform the WHO in order to make it more financially prudent through efficient allocation of resources to more important projects.
"Like other international organizations, the financial management of the WHO is loose. I will spare no efforts to make it more tight and efficient."
The organization's budget for the fiscal year 2012 and 2013 is $3.9 billion. Korea is the 10th largest financial contributor, paying $21 million, or 2.3 percent, for those fiscal years.
Jeon is a 30-year career civil servant who also served in the WHO as a desk officer at the Humanitarian Aid Bureau for two years between 2002 and 2004, providing medical kits to developing nations. He says that experience will help him settle easily in his new position.