Health Minister Emmerova sacked as PM tries to "stabilise" health care system

Milada Emmerova, photo: CTK

Health Minister Milada Emmerova was sacked on Wednesday as the government struggled to defuse an ongoing crisis in the Czech health care system. Her removal comes a week after thousands of doctors held a one-day strike in protest at delays in payments from health insurance companies.

Milada Emmerova,  photo: CTK
It's been called the job from hell. Certainly few ministers last more than a year or two in the post. In August 2004 Milada Emmerova became the country's eleventh health minister since 1989. And lasted, like most of her predecessors, just over a year. On Wednesday morning a government spokeswoman confirmed that the 60-year-old minister had been removed to "calm" the situation in the health system.

Her removal comes as a crisis in health care reaches a head. On Tuesday all six deputy health ministers offered their resignations in what they said was an attempt to ease the situation. A week earlier, thousands of doctors staged a one-day strike in protest in delays in payment from health insurance companies. They later demonstrated in front of the health ministry.

Under the Czech health care system, both private practitioners and doctors working in the state sector rely on funding from health insurance companies - primarily the country's largest state health insurer, VZP. They complain of having to wait up to two months for payment, and predict that next year the waiting period could grow longer under new rules introduced by the Health Ministry.

VZP, however, says it cannot help the delay because it itself is short of money. The insurer claims the health ministry orders it to pay doctors more than it receives in insurance payments. So both doctors and insurers have lined up against the health minister. In short, Milada Emmerova made too many enemies.

The minister's critics say she has failed to introduce proper reforms, choosing instead to maintain a rigid, centralized, socialist style system that is no longer tenable. Mrs Emmerova, a Social Democrat, swore that under her tenure no patient would pay a single crown for a visit to the doctor's. Many observers believe that is no longer possible.

What is certain, however, is that the country's beleaguered health system can expect no fundamental reform before June's general election. There is little any minister can do in less than nine months. Even less so when that minister will be appointed by a Social Democratic party which is edging ever closer to a largely unreformed Communist Party.