The total health expenditure in South Korea in 2018 accounted for approximately 8.1 percent of Korea's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that year. This was the result of the steepest increase in the past ten years and was the first time health spending as a share of the GDP exceeded eight percent. This share saw a continuous increase over the past decade, indicating that as the GDP grew, health spending grew at an even faster rate. Korea's GDP per capita was over 33 thousand U.S. dollars in 2018, increased from around 18.2 thousand dollars in 2009, while overall medical expenses in 2018 had increased by almost ten percent over the previous year, up to around 14.44 billion South Korean won (over 12 million U.S. dollars). Nearly 60 percent of the costs were covered by the government or the public health insurance system.
Higher health spending is still insufficient
Even though health spending as a share of the GDP exceeded eight percent in 2018, this was lower than the OECD average of 8.8 percent. Likewise, the government’s health expenses were around 60 percent and slightly increased from the previous year, but still lower than the OECD average of almost 74 percent. The increased expenditure was largely attributed to the introduction of what is dubbed “Moon Jae-In Care”, named after the current Korean president, much like the American Affordable Care Act is colloquially known as “Obamacare”. In short, the government will provide greatly expanded coverage for medical treatments and care, increasing the reimbursement rate of the public health insurance, along with other measures. In addition, the Korean population as a whole is rapidly aging, and more people than before are being hospitalized and receiving examinations. Koreans already see doctors far more frequently than any other OECD nationals.
Strains on health spending and insurance
The Korean national public health insurance system enjoyed seven years of surplus revenue since 2011 but fell into the red in 2018. As noted above, Moon Jae-In Care and the aging population are largely responsible. The years’ worth of revenue is projected to run out in the coming years. Foreigners who come to Korea as medical tourists make things worse, with an all-time high of over 380 thousand medical tourists to Korea in 2018.
South Korea's national health expenditure as a percent of GDP from 2000 to 2018
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OECD. (October 28, 2019). South Korea's national health expenditure as a percent of GDP from 2000 to 2018 [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/647320/health-spending-south-korea/
OECD. "South Korea's national health expenditure as a percent of GDP from 2000 to 2018." Chart. October 28, 2019. Statista. Accessed January 15, 2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/647320/health-spending-south-korea/
OECD. (2019). South Korea's national health expenditure as a percent of GDP from 2000 to 2018. Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: January 15, 2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/647320/health-spending-south-korea/
OECD. "South Korea's National Health Expenditure as a Percent of Gdp from 2000 to 2018." Statista, Statista Inc., 28 Oct 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/647320/health-spending-south-korea/
OECD, South Korea's national health expenditure as a percent of GDP from 2000 to 2018 Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/647320/health-spending-south-korea/ (last visited January 15, 2021)