Constitutional Court postpones decision on “unconstitutional” doctor’s fees

Фото: Штепанка Будкова

The Constitutional Court in Brno has postponed a decision on whether symbolic fees for visiting the doctor are unconstitutional. The court’s chairman Pavel Rychetský said the court needed more time to reach a decision. He was speaking after a day of deliberations and cross-examination with the health minister and even the prime minister appearing to give testimony.

Mirek Topolánek and Tomáš Julínek,  photo: CTK
Health Minister Tomáš Julínek appeared before the Constitutional Court judges on Wednesday to defend his reforms. The case, brought by the opposition Social Democrats and Communists, accuses the government of violating the Constitution by introducing a fee of 30 crowns – about one euro 20 cents – each time people visit their GP.

The government says the fees are to dissuade people from abusing the health system, but Mr Julínek was asked several times whether those fees were purely symbolic or represented something tangible. Also in the dock on Wednesday was Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, who appeared in Brno to defend his government’s legislation.

Mr Topolánek said without the government’s unpopular and controversial reforms, the health system would simply collapse. Constitutional Court chairman Pavel Rychetský told reporters afterwards the court needed more time to formulate its position, and would release a verdict at the next session on the matter. He did not say when that would be.

The day’s events – which at times resembled an afternoon in parliament rather than the deliberations of a court – received a positive spin from Michal Hašek, head of the opposition Social Democrat (CSSD) deputies' group. Mr Hašek claimed the Court clearly had strong doubts about the reforms, hence the postponement.

Critics say it meant nothing of the sort, and maintain the reforms are both constitutional and vital. So far, it seems, the Constitutional Court agrees. The Court has divided complaints over the centre-right’s comprehensive public finance reforms into three parts. In January it ruled that the overall changes, including tax reform, are constitutional. The healthcare reforms discussed on Wednesday are the second part. It still has to examine changes to the social benefit system.