Healthcare sector uncertainty continues

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There was further evidence of discord among officials with regards to healthcare May 29 with family physicians threatening strike action and government figures bickering over what reforms were needed, when, and how much they should cost.

The Latvian Association of Family Physicians submitted to the Health Ministry an offer to create a bilateral Reconciliation Commission to discuss their demands and reach an agreement on fulfilling them.

If no commission is established and no agreement is reached on fulfilling the demands, family physicians will go on a strike, said the association's president, Sarmite Veide.

The demands by family physicians include increasing the payment they receive per patient (currently 1.25 euros), by 30 percent annually for the next three years, and salaries to nurses and physicians' assistants at the same rate. They also want higher tariffs for the medical procedures they have to perform.

In addition, family physicians insist that the use of the new e-health system or any of its components should be made mandatory only after obtaining convincing evidence about their functionality and proper protection of the patients' data as well as giving doctors sufficient time to prepare for use of the new system. The much-heralded introduction of e-health services has been characterized by delays and technical problems.

Veide said that the Health Ministry had so far rejected all the demands made by the association. The ministry's acts and omissions jeopardize the rights and legal interests of family physicians in providing health care services to the population, she said.

Nor is that the only headache Health Minister Anda Čakša currently has to deal with.

Recent days have seen suggestions from some officials that a mandatory health contribution of around 20 euros per person per month should be introduced in addition to existing taxes.

However, on May 29 Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis appeared to shoot that idea down.

Kucinskis told the press after the meeting of the ruling coalition parties to that the mandatory health insurance payment idea was a proposal by employers and trade unions and has not yet been approved. The proposal will still be discussed by the working group on health care and the coalition partners.

He said a fixed charge would not be the best solution as it failed to ensure progressivity while there were wide divergences in people's income in Latvia.

However, it is obvious that additional financing for health care has to come "from the outside" because there is no spare money in the budget.

"Someone will have to pay. Theoretically, it can be employers, employees or the public in general," the prime minister said.

A working group chaired by the Latvian prime minister is looking for the ways to raise additional financing for health care.

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