By Poly Pantelides
A NATIONAL health system (NHS) could save the cash-strapped state an estimated €292 million over a 10-year period, the body responsible for its implementation said yesterday.
The ministers of health and finance, along with representatives of the health insurance organisation (HIO), which is responsible for overseeing and implementing the NHS, met at the headquarters of ruling DISY.
HIO representatives informed those present that an updated actuarial study by financial services consultants Mercer, placed health expenditure savings by implementing an NHS to €292 million for the period 2016-2025.
Cyprus’ troika of lenders expects authorities to implement an NHS by the end of 2015, in order to contain rising health expenses. But they first asked the government to update their figures before taking any steps to set up the necessary IT-infrastructure, an integral part of rationalising expenses, increasing transparency and reducing bureaucracy.
Head of the HIO, Thomas Antoniou, told reporters they would now elicit the help of consultants to get things moving in terms of the IT-system.
Mercer’s also told the HIO they would need to “marginally increase” the proposed contributions by taxpayers who will be funding the system. The NHS’ annual budget will be based on contributions on the total earnings of the government, employees and employers.
The original figures date back to 2001, when parliament eventually passed the relevant law after years of discussion with stakeholders.
The state’s proposed contributions remain stable at 4.55 per cent, so that the government is not called to make additional expenses, the HIO said. To make the budget work, Mercer’s has proposed a 2.23 per cent contribution by waged employees; 3.97 per cent by the self-employed; 2.23 per cent by pensioners; and 2.55 per cent by employers. The proposed increases from the 2001 contributions range from 0.42 per cent for the self-employed, to 0.30 per cent for employers, and to 0.23 per cent for pensioners and waged employees.
As of this year, civil servants have started paying in 1.5 per cent of their gross salaries, and five-member families may voluntarily contribute the same amount to also ensure health coverage.
There are also updated sliding income criteria in place. All of this has been part of Cyprus’ obligations to its lenders, and includes raising hospital fees for non-beneficiaries by 30 per cent to reflect costs and introducing disincentives for abusing the system and using emergency services for non-urgent situations.
Fees have been introduced for using accident and emergency services, seeing state doctors and requesting medicines and lab tests. So far, feedback from hospitals suggests the changes are alleviating the strained state health care system.
Cyprus is the only European Union member state without a universal coverage system for its health sector. The private sector remains effectively unregulated by the ministry of health, despite the fact that both state and private health sectors are roughly the same size – a consequence of the lack of an NHS. “We now have a chance to implement the NHS,” said health minister Petros Petrides referring to the troika agreement to reform health service in Cyprus.