£810 / $1295 / €985
South Korea ranks as one of the world’s leading economies, with a population approaching 50 million and overall GDP listed among the top 15 in the world. As a result, much of the population expects a high level of medical care.
South Korea has the highest healthcare expenditure of all the ‘Asian Tigers’, with an estimated 59% funded by the public sector. Almost every citizen is covered by the country’s public health insurance system. The government has been forced
to implement cost-cutting measures in recent years, owing to a large deficit faced by the healthcare system. Healthcare costs continue to rise, with the country’s rapidly aging population adding upward pressure to total spending. In the first
half of 2009 for example, senior citizens accounted for 31.7% of costs covered by the National Health Insurance Corporation (NHIC).
South Korea is well provided for in terms of hospital facilities which are primarily operated by the private sector. There has been a rapid expansion in the number of beds over the past decade and overall provision in hospitals and medical
clinics now exceeds 9.0 beds per thousand population, including 5.2 acute hospital beds per thousand population. In recent years, attention has turned to the provision of long term care beds for the elderly and chronically sick to free up
space in general hospitals.
In contrast to the abundance of hospital beds, the number of doctors is on the low side for a developed country with around 2.2 physicians per thousand population, although this is above average for the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover,
doctors tend to be concentrated in the large metropolitan cities, resulting in a shortage in rural areas.
From a regulatory and legal point of view, the market is generally regarded as ‘difficult’. Government policies are often not transparent, and there is a large degree of favouritism towards local manufacturers. It remains to be seen, but the
situation should improve as a result of the Free Trade Agreements signed with the European Union and the USA, which call for more transparency especially in the pricing & reimbursement of medical devices.
South Korea has signed Free Trade Agreements with the European Union and the USA. The EU-South Korea FTA came into effect in July 2011, whilst the US-Korea FTA took effect in March 2012. The FTAs will facilitate increased trade with
the easing of tariff and non-tariff barriers. Virtually all tariffs on industrial products are due to be eliminated within three years.
South Korea has a large number of domestic producers, many of which are part of much larger conglomerate companies. Numbers of domestic manufacturers have more than doubled in recent years. Overall, however, the local
manufacturing sector is fragmented. One particular area of strength is the electromedical sector.
Imports reached US$2,828.2 million in 2011, a rise of 12.6% over the previous year. All categories achieved double digit growth during the period except for diagnostic imaging (3.7%), the second largest category at US$803.3 million, and
orthopaedics (9.8%), valued at US$195.2 million. The top performing category was consumables, which rose by 22.2% to US$437.2 million. Imports have faltered during 2012 with growth of less than 1.0% during the first eleven months of the year.
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