The health ministry and the trade unions of healthcare professionals are close to a deal on most labour matters relating to the national health system (Gesy) and the two government bills introducing universal healthcare will be brought to the plenum next month after months of haggling, minister Giorgos Pamboridis said on Thursday.
Speaking after a House health committee session, the minister said “95 per cent” of issues have been agreed with the unions, as a result of intensive efforts over the last two weeks.
“With everyone’s help we have come close to a deal,” he said.
“Today, the committee was briefed on the changes and convergences that have been achieved.”
The committee agreed to conclude discussion of the two bills in next week’s session so they can be forwarded to the plenum for voting.
Trade union reps concurred that negotiation over the last two weeks helped bridge the gaps between the two sides, but insisted that the minister’s pledges must be presented to them “on paper”.
Earlier, Pamboridis had said that despite a daily smear campaign aimed at discrediting the proposed Gesy as a viable universal-coverage health system, the public should not be intimidated.
Speaking on state radio on Thursday morning, Pamboridis said he fully understands the effort to terrify people, but expressed confidence that Gesy “will be introduced”.
“There is, indeed, a daily effort to discredit Gesy,” he said.
“Some speak of economic destruction. And I get it – I understand the effort to terrify people. I anticipated it. I ask people to not buy it. All the planning is done, and the only thing keeping free healthcare from the people is delay by political parties.”
Government bills aiming to lay the legislative groundwork for the introduction of Gesy have been submitted to parliament last October, but endless discussion has left them bogged down at House Health committee-level.
“I don’t think attempts to scupper the Gesy effort come from political parties, but from organised interest groups trying to lobby political parties,” Pamboridis explained.
“But my appeal is to the political parties, not the interest groups. Let us complete the consensus achieved last summer between the party leaders and the President. I appeal to them to not get carried away by private interests. We are literally on the cusp.”
Commenting on rumours of second thoughts by various political parties, all of which had committed to a timeline for introduction of the “single largest reform in the history of the Republic of Cyprus” last summer, Pamboridis said parties are free to voice them publicly.
“If there are other thoughts, we are already on the pitch and people are watching – anyone is free to air them and be judged for them,” he said.
“For my part, I will accept no derogation from the principle of universal coverage. It is the single most important pillar of a national health plan. It is the reason this whole effort was started. Anyone talking about systems excluding even one citizen is talking about departing from the agreed principles.”
Meanwhile, remarking on his official visit to Malta, where he signed, on behalf of Cyprus, the declaration of a six-country group – Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Malta – aiming to work for cheaper drugs through collective bargaining with pharmaceutical companies, Pamboridis said the effort went better than expected.
“It is not just the Southern European Union countries that form the Valetta Group, as it has come to be called,” he said.
“This isn’t a problem that concerns Cyprus alone. It concerns every country, particularly, of course, small economies that are forced to negotiate with pharmaceutical giants with revenues larger than their GDP.”
Ireland and Romania also joined the club, as did Slovakia, the minister said, while Belgium has expressed intention to participate.
“Big pharmaceuticals are among the most powerful forces in the world – perhaps second only to the arms industry,” he said.
“The only way to conduct a meaningful negotiation with them is to create a united front.”
Banding together, Pamboridis said of EU countries, will “allow us, first of all, to share information”.
“At what price does, say, Germany buy drugs? This is the sort of information that has never been available to us.”
“Also, of course, we can then move to joint purchases, from a stronger negotiating position.”