Majority of international students dissatisfied with Korean health insurance system

More than half had not tried to use services from healthcare facilities

Majority of international students dissatisfied with Korean health insurance system

Life & Health

By Kenneth Araullo

A recent study revealed that although international students pay health insurance premiums in South Korea, less than one in seven are content with the country's health insurance system, with many citing their dissatisfaction with the financial strain imposed by the insurance scheme.

Conducted by a team from Soonchunhyang University College of Medicine, the study, titled “Analysis of International Students' Perceptions of the National Health Insurance System and Utilisation of Medical Services.” was recently published in the latest issue of the Korean Society for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

With the influx of international students in Korea, the government restructured the foreign health insurance system in July 2019. This reorganisation mandated that international students staying in Korea for more than six months must enrol in health insurance. While this move expanded the benefits available to students, it concurrently increased the financial burden due to insurance premiums, raising concerns among this demographic.

The research team delved into the perceptions and health insurance usage of international students, comparing their perspectives with those of the local Korean populace.

More than half have never utilised healthcare facilities

Characterised by a younger average age of 23, international students were found to be less likely to seek medical attention. Nearly 58% of them had never utilised healthcare facilities, while the remainder had accessed hospitals or pharmacies. Among those who used medical services, a significant portion visited pharmacies (37.8%), received health checkups (26.6%), sought outpatient care (20.0%), were hospitalised (6.9%), or sought emergency medical services (4.3%).

Despite a substantial need for medical attention or check-ups among the students, 15.7% encountered barriers accessing necessary healthcare. Financial constraints accounted for 45.5% of the reasons, followed by time constraints due to academic commitments or part-time work (17%), and language barriers, specifically communicating in Korean at hospitals (17.9%).

Regarding perceptions of health insurance coverage, only 16% of international students responded positively, with 38% expressing negative sentiments, and 46.2% remaining neutral. Notably, the majority of those with negative perceptions, 91.2%, were dissatisfied with the comparatively higher insurance premiums when contrasted with private insurance plans.

In contrast, a significantly higher proportion of Koreans, 83.9%, had utilised medical services in the past year, as opposed to the 42.4% of international students. The healthcare services commonly utilised by both groups were pharmacies, outpatient clinics, and services catering to minor ailments.

Moreover, a mere 3.9% of Koreans reported unmet healthcare needs, whereas almost 58% cited time constraints preventing their visit to a medical institution, followed by individuals who declined due to wait times (31.6%) or financial constraints (29.4%).

The study highlighted the disparity in perceptions of the health insurance system between international students and Koreans, largely influenced by how insurance premiums are calculated. While Koreans' insurance premiums are income-based, determined by property and occupational characteristics, international students are charged a fixed premium, irrespective of nationality, age, income, or wealth, based on the average of local subscribers' premiums from the previous year.

The disparity further stems from the fact that most international students are younger, healthier, with lower occurrences of chronic diseases, reduced utilisation of healthcare services, and fewer national health checkups.

What are your thoughts on this story? Please feel free to share your comments below.

Related Stories

Keep up with the latest news and events

Join our mailing list, it’s free!