Several healthcare reform groups yesterday panned the government’s medical tourism plan, saying it was just a ploy for favoring big corporations by allowing them to set up profit-making medical centers in the proposed free economic pilot zones.
Dozens of representatives from the Doctors’ Working Conditions Reform Task Force, the Taiwan Radical Nurses Union, the Taiwan Healthcare Reform Foundation, Covenants Watch, the Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries and the Black Island National Youth Front staged a protest outside the Taipei International Convention Center, where the Asia segment of the annual World Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare Congress was being held.
More than 400 medical experts from a dozen countries are attending the two-day congress, the first time it is being held in Taiwan.
Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times
The opening ceremony yesterday morning was temporarily interrupted when a small group of protesters rushed toward the speaker’s podium while chanting slogans and holding cardboard signs that read: “Health is not for sale.”
“The congress here may be branded as an ‘academic seminar,’ but it is in fact a platform for the Ministry [of Health and Welfare] to spread its propaganda on international medical centers and the free economic pilot zones,” said Ellery Huang (黃致翰), a physician and member of the Doctors’ Working Conditions Reform Task Force.
Huang said the ministry should refrain from “goofing around and pandering to deep-pocketed corporations,” particularly at a time when the country’s National Health Insurance program is heavily in debt and healthcare professionals face adverse conditions at work.
“We hereby demand that the ministry work to identify the root causes of the nation’s collapsing healthcare system and stop promoting something that seeks only to satisfy the needs of big corporations and overseas patients,” Huang said.
“We also urge the ministry to invest more resources to improve the employment environment of frontline medical personnel who have fallen victims to an ‘M-shaped’ healthcare system, instead of attempting to lure the country’s talent into the for-profit medical centers in the [planned] pilot zones,” Huang said.
Huang also called on the ministry to endeavor to safeguard the public’s right to healthcare and avoid its commodification, as well as to prevent financially disadvantaged patients from being marginalized because of some doctors’ slavish pursuit of wealth.
According to the government’s preliminary plan, the proposed international medical centers will primarily provide high-end physical examination services and cosmetic surgeries, which will not be covered by the National Health Insurance program and must be paid by patients out of their own pockets.
Taiwanese doctors will be allowed to take on part-time jobs at the centers and work a maximum of 20 hours per week.
Taiwan Healthcare Reform Foundation researcher Chao Meng-chieh (趙孟捷) identified three major problems in the government’s plan to set up the centers.
“First, the nation already faces a severe shortage of healthcare personnel and the establishment of the centers would only aggravate the problem,” Chao said.
Second, the ministry’s relaxation of hospital regulations for the centers will only make under-the-table irregularities even harder to detect, Chao said.
And third, the centers’ for-profit objective could undermine the healthcare system’s core value of being patient-centered, Chao said.
The protesters also demanded that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration retract the draft of the special act for free economic pilot zones, which it intends to push through the legislature before the current extra session ends on Friday next week.
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