Government officials say the nation needs to build an international medical center or risk losing competitiveness to Asian neighbors, but pundits warn that the plan, if approved by the government, could lead to a more expensive medical service for Taiwanese.
The divide between government officials and business representatives emerged on Wednesday during a closed-door hearing organized by the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) and Department of Health (DOH).
The proposed medical center, part of the government’s push for “Free Economic Pilot Zones,” would allow medical institutions to provide medical tourism services inside the special zones.
While the government has yet to decide on a site for such a center, officials are upbeat about the prospects for job creation and revenue.
The proposed center would give the nation’s medical industry a chance to thrive and compete with its peers around the world, Jan Fang-guan (詹方冠), a section head at the council, said at a press conference after the hearing.
Bureau of Medical Affairs Director-General Lee Wui-chiang (李偉強) said South Korea, China, Thailand, Singapore, India and Japan have already built international medical centers to attract foreign patients.
Taiwan will lose its competitive edge if it does not catch up immediately, Lee said.
“There were diverse opinions in the hearing, but everyone agreed that Taiwan should build an international medical center,” he said.
However, given the experience of other countries, there are worries about the impact the tourism-oriented medical centers will have on the National Health Insurance system, said Yawen Cheng (鄭雅文), a National Taiwan University assistant professor.
Cheng said it was likely that some doctors and medical resources from local hospitals and clinics may shift to the new medical centers, which could eventually drive up medical costs for Taiwanese.
“Each year 25,600 new doctors graduate in India, but public hospitals there are still short of doctors,” Cheng told reporters after the hearing. “The government in Thailand even provides salary subsidies for doctors in response to the shortage of doctors in some medical departments that are less profitable than others.”
Under the government’s plan, the international medical center would target foreign tourists, including Chinese. However, a non-government organization said this would expose doctors to an increased possibility of lawsuits.
“Local hospital operators often shirk their responsibilities in medical disputes. Once the international medical center starts operation, it will force doctors to bear more responsibilities than before,” said Lin Ping-hung (林秉鴻), deputy director-general of the Taiwan Medical Alliance for Labor Justice and Patient Safety.
At Wednesday’s hearing, neither the council nor the health department said where the planned center would be located, but Lee said it should be built in Taoyuan so it would be near the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.
The health department said the center should be a cluster of medical and biochemical industries, adding that the government does not want to see a proliferation of international medical centers in Taiwan.
“There is only one international medical center each in Singapore, Japan and Malaysia,” Lee said, hinting that the government might offer only one permit for medical institutions to building the center.
The Executive Yuan is scheduled to approve the preliminary plan for the Free Economic Pilot Zones later this month, and a special law for further liberalization in the zones will be sent to the Cabinet by mid-September, the council said.