Health in South Korea

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Although life expectancy has increased significantly since 1950, South Korea faces a number of important health-care issues. Foremost is the impact of environmental pollution on an increasingly urbanized population. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, chronic diseases account for the majority of diseases in South Korea, a condition exacerbated by the health care system’s focus on treatment rather than prevention. The incidence of chronic disease in South Korea hovers around 24 percent. Approximately 33 percent of all adults smoke. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) rate of prevalence at the end of 2003 was less than 0.1 percent. In 2001 central government expenditures on health care accounted for about 6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).[1] South Korea is experiencing a growing elderly population, which leads to an increase in chronic degenerative diseases. Majority of health care professionals treat patients on curative, rather than preventive treatments, because of the lack of financial incentives for preventive treatments.[2]

Health Insurance System[edit]

South Korea has universal health insurance, which started in July 1977 and finished 1989. Nearly all South Koreans are beneficiaries of the program, therefore almost reaching the goal of providing health insurance for all South Korean citizens. The insurance is funded by contributions, government subsidies, and tobacco surcharges and the National Health Insurance Corporation is the main supervising institution. The program is fair in practice; it gives the same amount of medical expenses and reimbursements for all citizens, regardless of how much they paid.[2] The National Health Insurance started to develop deficits starting 1996, when the total health expenditures exceeded the total income. The government has been raising the insurance premiums to make up for the deficit, but many health policy experts predict that the increase will not solve the deficit.[3]


The number of hospital beds per 1000 population is 10, well above the OECD countries' average of 5.[4]

Unequal Distribution of Physicians[edit]

There are regional disparities between urban and rural areas for health professionals. The number of primary care doctors in cities is 37.3% higher than rural areas, and the problem is growing because younger physicians are choosing to practice in the cities.[5]


  1. ^ South Korea country profile. Library of Congress Federal Research Division (May 2005). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ a b "Song, Y. J. (2009). The South Korean Health Care System. International Medical Community, 52(3), 206-209. doi:February 25, 2014"
  3. ^ Kwon, S. (2008). Thirty Years of National Health Insurance in South Korea: Lessons for Achieving Universal Health Care Coverage. Oxford Journal, 24(1), 63-71. doi:March 3, 2014
  4. ^ CIA. (2014). The world factbook: Korea, south. Retrieved 1 Mar 2014
  5. ^ Lee, J (2003). Health care reform in South Korea: Success or Failure?.93(1), 44-51. doi:March 3, 2014