David Rath is PM's choice to become new health minister

David Rath, photo: CTK

Eight days after the firing of Milada Emmerova as health minister, the Czech government now has a successor in David Rath, the head of the professional body of Czech doctors. He could become the 12th health minister since 1989 - and would face as tall an order as any: reforming a health sector in financial straits and doing so in record time.

David Rath,  photo: CTK
Jan Velinger joins us in the studio to explain.

"Pavla, David Rath, who was proposed new health minister by Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek on Thursday, has effectively just nine months to make an impact - before next year's national elections - or else suffer the fate of his predecessors. Few since 1989, have held the post for much more than a year. In the next nine months Mr Rath will have to quell the current health crisis which has pitted doctors against health insurance companies - primarily the largest state insurer VZP - over continuing financial instability.

The VZP, hundreds of millions of crowns in debt, has been chronically late in paying doctors, but itself complained it was being ordered to pay out more than it received in insurance payments. The lack of liquidity and any near solutions brought the crisis to a head in early October, leading to a one one-day protest strike that cost the former minister the job. Now taking up the post, Mr Rath has said he would like to introduce reforms at hospitals and reduce debts at the largest state insurance company VZP. Steps he's stated all along."

"The first thing that will be necessary will be to enforce a crisis plan, hopefully with the current management [of VZP], which I'd prefer - to put it on the path to economic recovery over the next few months. Another step will be to implement public control over state hospitals and to introduce a system overseeing the quality of health care itself."

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek  (left) and David Rath,  photo: CTK
P: Jan, of course the question now is how successful will Mr Rath be in applying pressure or reaching a consensus to push through necessary reforms?

"That is the question of the hour of course and we can only speculate for the moment on just how well Mr Rath might do. His supporters certainly feel that if there is anyone with the "steel" for much-needed reforms, it is probably him. As the president of the Czech Medical Chamber and the largest doctors' union years ago, Mr Rath urged doctors to strike in the past and long complained about the state of insurance companies, which he has unflatteringly compared to "leeches". For those reasons he's certainly not liked by all and has a number of high-level political opponents, but no one could accuse him of shying away from a fight."

P: Finally, what do we know about Mr Rath's political affiliations?

"Well, it's well known that although Mr Rath began as a supporter of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats he gravitated towards the Social Democrats social policies. Although not a party member, he seems firmly within Prime Minister Paroubek's camp and it seems likely that if his mandate in his new post is to exceed nine months, the Social Democrats will have to do well in elections next year."