Lower house abolishes direct payments in health care

Photo: Khalil Baalbaki

The lower house of Parliament has approved the abolition of direct payments in health care, introduced by the former centre-right government. Under the new bill, patients will no longer be required to pay 30 crowns (almost 2 US dollars) for every visit to the doctor or a 30 crown fee for medical prescriptions in pharmacies. The only fee that remains in effect is a 90 crown fee for emergency visits.

Photo: Khalil Baalbaki
The bill, put forward by the Social Democrats, was supported by 113 out of 153 deputies present. Deputies from the right-wing opposition TOP 09 and the Civic Democratic Party voted against it. According to previous calculations, revenues from ambulances and pharmacies will drop by 3.27 billion crowns, if the bill takes effect next year. Doctors are to receive compensation from the health ministry amounting to the equivalent of the health fees they collected during the previous year.

In the case of pharmacies, the health ministry wants to cover the fall out for prescription fees from health insurance. According to health minister Svatopluk Němeček, the sum insurers would pay the pharmacies for this service would not exceed 800 million crowns. The difference will be compensated by the state.

The centre right government promised to abolish direct payments in health care, with the exception of the fee for emergency visits, in its policy programme. Health minister Svatopluk Němeček said the fees, introduced by the centre-right government of Mirek Topolánek in 2008, pose a social and administrative burden and do not fulfil their supposed regulatory task.

Former health minister Leoš Heger criticised the move, arguing that although the income gap will be compensated from the state budget, the state could have used the money otherwise, either on health care or welfare spending.

Under the previous governments, patients were also required to pay a 60 crown fee for a day spent in hospital. The fee was later raised to 100 crowns, but the Constitutional Court abolished it as of January 2014, arguing that the fee made hospital care inaccessible to some citizens.