To pay or not to pay:controversy over medical fees ahead of reform
With less than two weeks to go to the end of the year, doctors’ offices are bursting at the seams. However, it is not a flu epidemic that’s filling waiting rooms; people are concerned about having to pay fees for medical services as of next year, and are stocking up on medicines just as they would hoard up on food ahead of an expected price hike. The rumblings of discontent over the health reform are growing and they are leading to a last-minute flurry of uncertainty among government politicians.
Some senators and a number of celebrities recently signed a petition urging Czechs to refuse payments. This led to a storm of controversy, with Health Minister Tomas Julinek expressing outrage that law-makers should urge Czechs to violate the law. He said Czechs who do not pay could find themselves on debtor’s lists and would have trouble getting a loan. The Association of Patients promptly came up with a new form of protest – advising patients to pay in small denominations to make the doctor’s job harder. The crowds of people in their waiting rooms are already doing a good job of that, and at least one hospital has said it would not collect money from under-age children, considering it immoral.
The storm of opposition to the health reform has unsettled the Christian Democrats – one of the three governing parties – who never liked the idea of pensioners and children having to pay. They claim that the impact of the reform should be assessed in six months’ time and if necessary the socially disadvantaged should be exempted from payments. The opposition Social Democrats have greeted this show of uncertainty with enthusiasm, the governing Civic Democrats with anger. But the health minister is standing firm, saying fees for medical services will be introduced since they are vital to better quality health care. People say they will wait to see that to believe it – and many of them are spending long hours in doctors’ waiting rooms in order to save money on health care in the first quarter of 2008.