The Department of Health’s (DOH) plan to set up international medical centers in the “free economic pilot zones” (FEPZs) to attract medical tourists to Taiwan has come under fire from civic groups, who worry that workforce shortages in the health system would be exacerbated following the implementation of the plan.
The department on Wednesday announced the plan to establish international medical centers in the FEPZs to attract foreign visitors seeking aesthetic medical services, medical treatment for severe diseases or health checks at the centers.
In compliance with current regulations, the health centers would initially be run as associations, and foreign investment and the number of foreign nationals employed would be limited, it said.
Taiwanese would occupy the majority of the medical positions in the centers.
It added that the international medical centers would not be covered under the National Health Insurance, but Taiwanese could still visit the centers at their own expense.
Hsu Ming-neng (許銘能), director of the DOH’s Bureau of Medical Affairs, said that the authority would “reasonably limit the working hours of those Taiwanese doctors who assume part-time positions in the centers” to ensure the medical rights of Taiwanese.
Hsu also said that the centers would be required to forfeit a percentage of any financial surplus to the NHI as operating permit fees.
However, despite the protective measures promised by the health authority, civic groups have voiced their concerns and discontent with the plan, foreseeing that the establishment of the centers would contribute to a shortage of physicians in the five main medical departments — internal medicine, surgery, gynecology, pediatrics and emergency care.
The groups also warned that the centers would contribute to the trend of medical resources being commercialized and prioritized, even though that are meant to be distributed equally.
Chu Hsieh-kuang (朱顯光), head of research and development at the Taiwan Health Reform Foundation, questioned the government’s intention of establishing centers catering for foreigners when physicians and nurses are already overworked and the healthcare system already faces shortages.
National Health Insurance Civic Surveillance Alliance spokesperson Eva Teng (滕西華) criticized the plan for hinting at the possibility of “paying more for better medical services,” a move which would generate hierarchies among patients.