Language difficulties aside, Korean health insurance provides quality service at a fraction of the cost.
Although health care isn’t one of the first things that come to mind when you say Korea, maybe it should be. The Wall Street Journal recently cited the South Korean system as one of the five most effective systems in the world. Korea spends the fourth-lowest amount on health as a percent of the country’s gross domestic product (6.5%). However, it has the third-lowest public expenditure on health as a percent of total health expenditures (55.3%).
For expats, the most common complaint about the health care system here in Korea is the language barrier and the problems that it causes in gathering information about medical and insurance options. However, in terms of the actual quality of medical services that we receive in Korea and what we pay for them, Korea may soon gain more recognition worldwide, and deservedly so.
The National Plan
Everything begins with national health insurance, which is available to everyone working in Korea. You are covered (with a deductible) for nearly any medical situation as long as it is not classified as “elective.” This insurance is provided by the National Health Insurance Corporation, is paid for through a national tax, and is one which you must sign up for. The premium for this comes directly out of your paycheck, with your employer paying half if you are employed, or is paid directly to the NHIC if you don’t have a job.
For those employed by a government office (public school teachers) or private companies, their contribution is the same (50%). Your insurance cost is calculated at 5.9% of your monthly salary. For the self-employed or those who do not receive a standard wage, this gets slightly more complicated. Those on a student visa receive a lower contribution rate. For long-term residents, the rates are exactly the same as Korean nationals, based on income and property.
This insurance applies to nearly all medical procedures except electives and certain other expenses, depending on what the hospital or clinic offers. Medication is also covered, making your trip to the pharmacy very affordable. Traditional (Oriental) medicine and treatment including acupuncture are also provided for, as well as more specialized services such as chiropractic. Basically, you pay from 20-35% of the costs for medical services with the percentage changing with the type of procedure.
The NHIC has an international relations department at its main branch in Mapo-gu, Seoul. Their main function is to assist foreigners with their health care issues. Their phone number is 02-390-2000, and service is in English. nhic.or.kr
Even with the national health insurance, certain diseases or chronic conditions can become expensive as their treatments include options that are considered elective. These conditions may make it impossible to work. The deductibles on your hospital visits are also out-of-pocket and can be substantial as they are represent a percentage of the NHIC-set costs, not a set amount. Private health insurance is becoming increasingly necessary with the costs of medical care putting a huge financial strain on the NHIC.