Parliament, protestors take on health care reform

Protests in Prague, July 12 2011, photo: CTK

The lower house of Parliament is now debating the latest of the government’s comprehensive reform measures, this time dealing with health care. No criticism has been spared on this round of bills, which cover standard, special and emergency medical services, and more modifications to it are sure to come. Even so, a more definitive picture of health care reform is taking shape; Christian Falvey looks at what it entails.

Protests in Prague,  July 12 2011,  photo: CTK
Protesters were out in force again in Prague on Tuesday, turning to bloody theatrical demonstrations of life under health care reform to make their points on the first day of debate on the issue in Parliament.

What the Chamber of Deputies tabled on Tuesday was three sets of bills aimed at redefining the provision of health care services and the role of the state, the facility and the patient therein. Regarding the latter, the government makes patients the egalitarian offer of being “equal partners in the health care process”, meaning they get more rights and pay more money. Patients would, for example, have the right to be fully informed of their health condition and about the medical services provided them, and information on all medical service providers would be provided. The other part of the equal partnership means paying the cash-strapped health care system more for services considered above-standard. What the “standard” is has yet to be decided and the protesters and the opposition see this as a thinly-baited hook that will mean reserving modern health care for those who can afford it.

Special, or “specific” medical services defined in the government’s bill stipulates the conditions for a wide range of miscellaneous procedures neither standard nor above-standard. This refers among other things to sex changes, castrations and sterilisations, and regulates preventative treatments, genetic engineering and bans human cloning. A part of the legislation allows subsidized artificial insemination up to the age of 55 was set upon by the opposition while another, governing abortion, was willingly omitted from the draft bill to avoid controversy.

The final codex in the package covers many aspects of rescue services, the most controversial of which is the awkward proposal to allow paramedics an additional five minutes to reach their patients. This, the ministry says, is based on a 2008 analysis showing that rescue services could reach roughly a million more potential patients in 20 minutes than they could in 15. Less contentious is a provision allowing paramedics to enter buildings without permission and demand the assistance of bystanders.

Health Minister Leoš Heger,  photo: CTK
What the Health Ministry calls a reflection of advances in science, health care and personal rights, the opposition calls an unwarranted revolution that is being bulldozed past them. In order for the bills to be passed in timely fashion, the government employed a special meeting of the lower house only shortly after submitting the proposed bills. The Parliamentary health care committee will have 40 days to discuss the bills, rather than the standard 60, in the hopes of getting them passed by autumn.

Nonetheless, in the era of reform, no sooner does a bill pass Parliament than a complaint is filed with the Constitutional Court against it. Regarding the first part of health care reform, passed by the house a few weeks ago, the Social Democratic Party said Wednesday that the moment it is ratified would be the moment they would challenge it in court. Such a means of countering reforms has worked before this year already and will doubtless be used several times again.