Group of politicians, notable figures, petitions public to ignore healthcare fees

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January 1 2008 will see unprecedented changes in the Czech health sector as the result of government reforms. Chief among them will be the introduction of fees for visits to the doctor: 30 crowns per check-up, 60 crowns for every day in hospital. After the reforms passed in Parliament earlier this year, members of the political Left lodged a complaint with the country’s Constitutional Court on the grounds that the fees would breach the country’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. But now, some have taken things a step further. On Wednesday the signatories of a new petition urged the public to civil disobedience: to refuse to pay health fees until the Constitutional Court reaches its decision.

Jiri Dienstbier
“Ignore the law” or “Don’t pay”: that is the message being sent by a group of public figures in the Czech Republic opposed to healthcare fees due to be introduced on January 1. Some 60 individuals, including members of the Communist and Social Democrat parties as well as notable artists, writers and historians, have now signed a petition on the matter – urging the public to civil disobedience. Former foreign minister Jiri Dienstbier also added his signature and told Radio Prague the reason on Thursday, while en route to eastern Moravia:

“This law is very bad and if it is employed there is a danger it will endanger and weaken the health system and make bureaucrats of doctors and nurses who will have to fill a lot papers and will not have enough time to treat their patients. Sure, it’s a law but a lot of laws passed by our parliament have mistakes and then have to be changed or fixed. So this is just kind of message, it’s a signal.”

Photo: CTK
Mr Dienstbier made clear that, in his view, civil disobedience was appropriate although he stressed say he and others were ready to respect the legislation if it was upheld by the Constitutional Court.

“We said that we will respect the law if the Constitutional Court says the legislation is ‘okay’. We are waiting, we just sent a signal, and want to know what the decision by the court will be.”

How or even when the court might rule is far from certain and most observers have been careful not to speculate; on Wednesday specialist in law Jindriska Syllova spoke to public broadcaster Czech TV:

“One question is whether any fees are constitutional in light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms; another is whether these fees proposed by the government are in keeping with the document.”

In response to the protestors’ petition, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said on Wednesday that no one can be above the law, and he was not the only one to react. The Health Ministry also issued a statement through its spokesman, Tomas Cikrt, who warned that anyone who refused to pay fees for visits to the doctor’s as of January could be held accountable. In the case of a lawsuit, a refusal to pay 30 crowns at the doctor’s could ultimately cost offenders much more: 6,000 crowns (the equivalent of around 335 US dollars).