Green light to introducing the multi-player health insurance system in Hungary

Article published on Dec. 19, 2007
community published
Article published on Dec. 19, 2007
February 19, 2008 After long and heated debates, several public demonstrations and two votes in Parliament, President László Sólyom legally authorised the multi-player health insurance bill as he ran out all the constitutionally provided to tools to prevent it. Although he continues to have reservations about both its content and the way it was passed by Parliament.

The Health Minister announced that 22 health insurance funds will be established in a matter of weeks and by the end of 2009 are expected to merge into between seven and ten funds. She asserted that the insured “will enjoy a right to free of choice from February 15, 2009.”

Violent demonstrations followed the approval of the health insurance bill February 12, 2008

Yesterday evening the Parliament voted again on the health insurance bill that has been sent back by the President for reconsideration. Prior to the voting, five MSZP MPs’ home were attacked with Molotov cocktails by extremists during the weekend in order to persuade them to vote against the bill on Monday. No serious personal injures occurred. Photo by Istvan Huszti, As predicted, the law was eventually passed by a ballot of 203-173. Only one MP from the Socialist Party (MSZP) voted against the bill claiming that it is against every social-democratic principle he believes in. He later has to face party’s ethical committee for breaking the faction rules. President Sólyom has no option but to sign the legislation within 15 days.

A group of 1,000 peaceful demonstrators gathered last evening to protest against the health insurance. The group of demonstrators later had been infiltrated by around two dozen people with face-masks and hoods. After the MPs' approval of health insurance law near 7 p.m., the group of protesters started to pelt fire-crackers at police officers and pulled down a 150-metre section of the barrier set up around Parliament Building. Riot police deployed dogs and tear gas spray to disperse the crowd and force it out of Parliament square.

Photo by Istvan Huszti, Index.huLater, demonstrators gathered at various locations in downtown and were being dispersed by police, who split larger formations into smaller groups.

In her final speech before the balloting, Health Minister Ágnes Horváth said everyone will have access to necessary health care services as the health insurance funds will not be able to choose their clients.

President Sólyom returns health insurance bill to House

December 27, 2007

President László Sólyom sent the health insurance bill back to Parliament for reconsideration on December 27, declining to send it to the Constitutional Court for review. If the House passes unchanged the legislation introducing multi-player health insurance, then Sólyom will have no choice but to sign it into law.

In a statement, Sólyom said he agrees that changes are needed in health care, but warned that such large-scale reform cannot be successful without support and confidence from the majority of doctors and others working in the health care sector, or else the whole nation will become the subject of an experiment whose outcome is uncertain. He asked Parliament to address serious shortcomings in the legislative procedure and eliminate excessive risks.

Intellectuals against multi-player bill

A total of 62 intellectuals and public figures have published an open letter urging voters to persuade their MPs of the importance of rejecting the business-based health insurance system planned by the government.

Accusing the cabinet of abusing its power and causing significant damage to the whole country, the signatories say society should resist the return of methods used in the single-party era. They argue that experiences of other countries show that the privatisation reduces equal opportunity in health care, lowers its performance and makes health care services more expensive.

If the bill enters into force, the letter states, then changes will be irreversible, Hungarian health care will be subordinated to international economic law and by the time the multi-player, business-based model falls, it will be practically impossible to restore the single-insurance system.

The letter asserts that the government has resorted to dictatorial methods to fulfil its business plan and has pushed through the legislature measures intended to determine the long-term future of the nation. It has ignored nationwide protests, the well-founded opinions expressed by professional and scientific bodies and forced many governing MPs to vote against their conscience. It claims that the final text of the bill was reached in backstage bargains between the governing parties and insurance companies by skirting social consultations, and that even MPs were only given the final version of the text directly before voting on it.

The signatories include former President Ferenc Mádl, sociologist Zsuzsa Hegedűs, Gödöllő mayor György Gémesi, Liga Unions leader István Gaskó, József Sípos of the social policy section of the Socialist Party, András Lányi of the NGO Élőlánc, the Civilian Lawyers Commission, architect Imre Makovecz and TV personality Sándor Fábry.

uj_plakat_.jpgMPs approve gov't health reform bill

December 19, 2007

Despite the strong public opposition, Hungarian MPs passed the government's health reform bill on Monday with 204 votes for, 168 against and a single abstention. The measures to introduce an element of private funding into the health-care system were seen as a major test of the Socialist-liberal governing coalition.

The government plans to introduce a multi-player health insurance system generated rarely seen public reactions around the country. Thousands of people staged several demonstrations in the last few weeks at Parliament and around Budapest to protest the health reform bill submitted to the Parliament by the governing socialist-liberal coalition. The collective hostile attitude of the public towards the reform bill unified the otherwise fragmented society. People from different political and social groups staged demonstrations together including the main opposition right wing party Fidesz, leading intellectuals from socialist groups, the country’s major unions, the chamber of Hungarian Physicians and several NGOs (Védegylet, Élőlánc etc.). A total of 21 organizations have announced that they will take part in a strike of unspecified duration and a further 30 organizations have declared support for the action. Even some Socialist MPs expressed their disagreements towards the reforms including the Speaker of the House Katalin Szili (member of the Socialist Party).

Eventually Parliament passed the bill on the transformation of the health insurance system Monday evening with the votes of the governing parties, prompting the strike organizers to call off their industrial actions “of indefinite duration” after only one day.

The pass of the health reform bill was great relief for the socialist-liberal cabinet as their coalition was obviously shaking lately along with the historically law popularity rates of the governing parties. Following the votes, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány stated that he is very proud of his party for passing the bill as this has been the most far reaching decision of the period since the change of regime, terminating the remaining vestiges of the Kádár regime.

János Kóka, leader of the junior governing liberal party SZDSZ, told journalists following the vote that the new law struck the right balance between the positive benefits of the market and security provided by the state. "The new law will ensure the continuity of national solidarity but it will also give people the chance to select the health insurer that best serves their interests," said Koka.

Health Minister Ágnes Horváth (SZDSZ) also hailed the new law, a compromise between the two coalition parties, saying, "The law will facilitate major changes in health care, providing people with benefits without doing any harm."

Tibor Navracsics, parliamentary group leader of the main opposition Fidesz said that the government was only interested in "squeezing the bill through parliament" rather than improving the nation's health.

Parliament now awaits the decision of President Laszló Sólyom, who may sign the bill into law, send it back to the House for reconsideration or seek a constitutional review if he deems it as containing major faults.

Details of the new health reform bill:

The legislation maintains a state body to oversee health insurance and guarantee the universal provision of services and allows private businesses to buy minority stakes in 22 new regional funds with the aim of enhancing efficiency and stimulating competition. If a region fails attract a private investor then the state will operate the fund. The size of the social insurance contribution will continue to be set by parliament and contributions will be collected by the tax authority, as is currently the case. Hungarian citizens will still be able to choose their GP and pediatricians. Each regional fund, a closed company limited by shares, will be set up with equity of 20 million forints (EUR 800,000) and each fund will be required to recruit half a million members. Individuals will be able to choose among the funds, but if they fail to do so they will be automatically drawn into the fund of their region. Every year patients will have the chance to change insurers.