Debate continues on health care reform

Health Minister Tomas Julinek, photo: CTK

Earlier this month Health Minister Tomas Julinek revealed the details of his planned reforms in the healthcare sector, including a new system of fees upon visiting the doctor's or other health facilities. Since then, debate has not ceased on the issue, with the Czech Patients' Association going so far as calling the planned measures unconstitutional. At the same time experts are warning of a time bomb ticking in the Czech health care sector: the population is ageing and there are too few specialists focusing on geriatric care.

Health Minister Tomas Julinek,  photo: CTK
The planned reforms in the health sector include a 30-crown fee (around 1.5 USD) for each visit to the doctor's and the same for individual prescriptions. Every day spent in a hospital or other health facility will cost 60 crowns and emergency wards will charge 90 crowns for every visit. The Czech Patients' Association says these health care fees breach the Czech constitution. Former health minister David Rath of the opposition Social Democrats says his party colleagues in parliament would be willing to file a constitutional complaint. He dismisses Mr Julinek's reform plan as badly designed.

"I am seriously worried that every ill-considered change that Minister Julinek is working on can only derail the health care system. That can only result in poorer quality health care and increased costs."

The Health Ministry says a change of health care funding is vital. Deputy Health Minister Pavel Hrobon has calculated the Czech Republic's health care system will be short 30 billion crowns (1.4 billion USD) in 2015, unless the system of financing is changed. He says the overall annual fees paid by an individual should not exceed 5,000 crowns.

Pavel Hrobon and Lubomir Chudoba,  photo: CTK
"The fees are not going to harm the worst-off because we will introduce a cap on fees for visits to the doctor's and medicines. More importantly, we include in it the costs of medicines as well. By the way, there are tens of thousands of people in this country who are now paying up to 10,000 crowns every year for medicines. And no one has ever cared about them."

Health Minister Tomas Julinek announced on Sunday he was going to convene a commission that will be responsible for the country's health reform process. In a debate on Czech Television on Sunday, Mr Julinek said the commission will be made up of experts in the field and representatives of the five parties in parliament.

Meanwhile, experts on geriatric medicine warn that the Czech health care system fails to recognise the challenges of population ageing. They say the system should focus more on follow-up care and rehabilitation rather than acute care. People over 65 now constitute about 15 percent of the Czech population and that number is expected to grow: to almost 25 percent in 2030 and to one third of the population in 2050.