Rebates or kickbacks
Corrupt doctors, pharmacists raise medical bills
More than 2,000 doctors and pharmacists will have their licenses suspended for taking bribes from pharmaceutical companies. The suspension will last up to 12 months in accordance with the amount they received under the table.
The data illustrates how widespread corruption is in the medical community.
Doctors and pharmacists still do not understand the difference between rebates and kickbacks. A rebate is a justifiable reward or incentive for sales and outside the scope of criminal punishment. A kickback is illegal and punishable as it keeps greasing secret deals.
For decades, doctors and pharmacists fattened their pockets from pharmaceutical companies through corrupt ties under the guise of the rebate system. Like the crocodile and Crocodile Birds, they have enjoyed symbiotic relations. They prescribed drugs from makers who provide cash and sponsorship.
Doctors and pharmacists contend that they received the rebates as an incentive for buying drugs from manufacturers. What they receive are kickbacks punishable by criminal law.
The Korean Hospital Association, the Korean Pharmaceutical Association and the other 11 related organizations vowed to uproot the system. The Korean Medical Association argues that the money and gifts doctors receive are rebates, adding that they are part of due incentives available in every business transaction. The association has threatened to go to the Constitutional Court to challenge the government's crackdown. The association for doctors must know the line between rebates and bribes before they appeal.
Their argument is unjustifiable as patients have no right to choose which drugs they take. More than two-thirds of drug bills are covered by health insurance.
Under the law introduced in November last year, givers and receivers of questionable sums are subject to prison terms of up to two years or fines of up to 30 million won.
Koreans spend 22.5 percent of all medical bills on buying drugs, higher than the OECD average of 14.3 percent. The Fair Trade Commission said pharmaceutical companies spend 3 trillion won or 20 percent of their total revenue in paying kickbacks to doctors and pharmacists.
Their corruption puts an extra financial burden on all people as medical insurance covers 70 percent of drug bills patients pay. Korea paid 12.8 trillion won or 29.3 percent of health insurance expenditures, for covering these bills. A 10 percent reduction in drug bills would slash as much as 1.3 trillion won from health insurance premiums.
The government should strengthen its campaign against uprooting the dirty food chain in the medical community. The majority of doctors and pharmacists do not rake in bribes any longer. Now is the time for all of them to join in the anti-corruption drive. They must know they are kickbacks not rebates. The misnomer should no longer be accepted.