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Medical tourists victims of inflated fees in Korea

Lee Tae-hoon, staff reporter at The Korea Times, recently published an exclusive report exposing a suppressed study conducted by a state-funded think tank that concluded that medical tourists have been victims of "exceedingly inflated" medical costs in South Korea.

Two-tier pricing is widespread and hardly a secret, with medical tourists being charged "2.5 to 3 times more than locals." However, among these foreign patients already paying more, the fee variation is amazingly wide.

medical tourist pay higher fees
Source: Korea Times



The report noted that "the price disparity in medical fees for foreign patients is too high," with differences between the lowest and highest fees for the most-sought-after procedures among medical tourists exceeding more than 10 times on average.

Some medical tourists were charged rates up to 79 times higher than others for the same treatment.

In a survey conducted during the second half of 2009 by the Korea Health Industry Development Institute in 191 hospitals, fees for medical tourists undergoing rhinoplasty varied from $398 to $5,238, while full facelift ranged from $3,492 to $29,041.

Lee Ho-young, marketing director of the Global Healthcare Business Center in Korea, claims that such pricing mechanisms are not unethical because, "hospitals should be compensated for their extra efforts to attract and treat foreign patients, such as marketing campaigns, catering customized meals and hiring interpreters."

Although medical prices are heavily regulated in South Korea, the official government view is that its pricing policies apply only to citizens and not to foreigners.

Article 1 of the Medical Law leaves medical tourists "unprotected from malpractice, discriminatory charging, overpricing and patient privacy rights" violations.

All hospitals in Seoul's posh district of Gangnam, home to many of South Korea's cosmetic plastic surgery specialists, failed to report the two-tier pricing scheme to the government, using Article 1 as a justification.

The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs refused to release the report funded with taxpayer money, concludes Tae-hoon, "over apparent fear that it might deal a blow to the fledgling medical tourism industry."

Full articles here and here.


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