Czech GPs go on strike to get higher payments from health insurance companies

Photo: CTK

Most general practitioners in the Czech Republic kept their surgeries closed on Wednesday as doctors went on strike to make sure their voices are heard. At the moment Czech GPs are negotiating next year's payments they receive from health insurance companies for treating individual patients.

Photo: CTK
Thousands of general practitioners in the Czech Republic closed their offices on Tuesday in a successful attempt to get more funds. Instead of treating patients, they went on a protest and attended meetings and seminars organized by the Association of General Practitioners, where they discussed the bearing of negotiations doctors' representatives are holding with Czech health insurance companies. Vaclav Smatlak, the head of the GPs' Association, says the protest has been fruitful.

"Based on the information from the regions, about 86 percent of GPs closed their offices today and the rest of them are providing emergency care for patients. This protest is not aimed at our patients; it is aimed at insurance companies. Negotiations with them failed at the beginning of September, but as we are protesting, they came back to the table and the negotiation goes on."

The protest has been held to bring attention to the problems of underpaid Czech GPs, and to pressure health insurance companies to accept their demands. General practitioners are demanding a substantial rise in the payments they receive from health insurance companies. As of now, they get 36 crowns, or 1.8 U.S. dollars, per patient. GPs originally demanded 55 crowns, but they have already arrived at an agreement that they would ask for 42. But the problem of low reimbursement is not the only issue that needs to be urgently addressed, says Vaclav Smatlak.

"The demands of primary health care in the Czech Republic were satisfied only in the amount of 20 percent. Due to this, we as GPs are forced into strict regulations of drugs and some examinations such as X-rays, laboratory tests, etc. We need about 150 - 200 new GPs per year, but last year there were only six new GPs and this year there are 20 of them. We want to say that postponing a solution to this problem means that primary health care in the Czech Republic will collapse in five years."

The protest provoked a reaction from the Patients' Association whose chairman Lubomir Olejar says that GPs must not take their patients hostages. Tereza Kvetonova is the spokeswoman for the General Health Insurance Company (or the VZP) the largest of Czech health insurance of companies with 6.5 million clients. She says that there was no need for such a large-scale action.

Photo: CTK
"We think that the protest is a little ahead of time, we are still negotiating with GPs and the next round of talks is scheduled for Friday. The original demands of GPs' representatives called for a 50 percent increase in the payments from insurance companies, and they are economically unrealistic for us. We nevertheless agree that GPs are undervalued in the long run and therefore we are offering them for next year a record increase in their payments of up to ten percent. They will also have additional income from the fees to be introduced next year."

Whether the protest was ahead of time or not, it has already borne results. VZP, the largest Czech health insurance provider, has agreed to meet GPs' demands. On Friday, other health insurance companies in the Czech Republic will announce if they will do the same.