Health minister prescribes "radical treatment" for Czechs

Health minister David Rath, photo: CTK

Are you overweight? Do you smoke? Do you neglect medical check ups? The average Czech would give you a "yes" answer to all of the above and the health minister now intends to change that. In an effort to curb the health sector's staggering debt, he is advocating a healthier lifestyle and more personal responsibility for one's health.

Health minister David Rath,  photo: CTK
The health minister is clearly determined to succeed where all his predecessors failed - to stop the huge drain of funds from the Czech health sector. His recipe is a combination of economizing and prevention. Czechs will be asked to pay more for medicaments and they will be financially rewarded for undergoing regular medical check ups. For instance, by paying lower health insurance or getting free spa treatment. The motto "prevention is cheaper than treatment" is one that Czechs will be seeing everywhere in the next few months. Leading Czech specialists will appear in advertisements in many Czech papers and later even TV slots. Although the health sector is cash strapped, the minister believes this money to be well invested - and he is prepared to spend hundreds of thousands - possibly millions of crowns - on a prevention campaign that would make Czechs kick the unhealthy habits of a lifetime. Given the fact that the opposition Civic Democrats support the idea, Rath's system of "bonuses for prevention" could be in place within two years time.

The minister is even determined to change the country's tobacco law -one of the most liberal in Europe - and he advocates a steep "health tax" on cigarettes.

All this doctors welcome. A more controversial part of the minister's cost-cutting measures are his immediate cutbacks in all spheres of the health sector. They are the steepest since 1990 and some hospitals say they are having to put off planned operations as a result and that the quality of health care is dropping. Both hospitals and GPs are having to economize on such things as bandages, medicaments and special care. In fact some doctors are so angry with the planned cuts for next year that they are boycotting meetings with the minister. Pharmacists are also unhappy. As a result of the cuts, a quarter of all pharmacies, particularly those in small towns and villages may have to close down. Many now claim that the minister's health plan for Czechs is so radical it may kill the patient before he's had a chance to recover.