Constitutional Court rules on health fees
On Wednesday the Constitutional Court ruled that health care reforms introduced by the government this year did not contradict the Czech constitution. The ruling came six months after the opposition Social Democrats and the Communists put forward petitions against the reforms, which, as of January 1, have required patients to pay 30 crowns (almost 2 US dollars) for every visit to the doctors’. The verdict was close with only 8 out of 15 members of the court ruling in favour.
But many in the public have never approved of the fees, not least those who were used to free health care under Communism, and it is not surprising many pensioners or lower-income families are not happy. On the other hand, in the first quarter, sources note, the fees have significantly helped reduce spending for example of health insurers by 20 percent, savings of 1.6 billion crowns (around 106 million US dollars). The payments also had a positive effect in reducing the number of unwarranted visits to the doctors’, which were also a drain on the system. Those are seen as positive effects, saving funds which were slipping through the cracks.
That’s not enough for the Social Democrats and Communists, many of whom are fuming. Some, on Wednesday charged the government had leaned on the Constitutional Court, others pointed to the fact it was only a slim victory - 8 judges to 7 out of a total 15 - although it would have actually required 9 votes to strike the fees down. The opposition is saying this is not the end of it: the increasingly embattled centre-right government can expect new counter-measures such as a broad public strike in late June. And both opposition parties are promising to do away with the fees if they win the next general election.
Possible dissent from two or three government MPs can not be taken lightly, as the current coalition has only a fragile majority in Parliament leaning on the votes of two independents. That’s not an enviable position. In fact the health minister said on Wednesday if anybody thought he was now uncorking the champagne, they were mistaken. As some have noted, he may have won an important battle, but he has not won the war.