By Angelos Anastasiou
DEADLINES might be tight for the introduction of a National Health Scheme but the government has no choice but to stick to them, health minister Philippos Patsalis told those attending a public consultation on its introduction on Tuesday.
“The timelines are very demanding, we know,” Patsalis acknowledged. “But we have to meet them.”
Patsalis kicked off the session with an overview of the progress made so far and the roadmap to full implementation, as finalised recently after tough negotiations with the Troika.
According to the roadmap, the NHS is to be implemented in three stages over one year – the first stage provides for the implementation of the family doctor in July 2015; the second stage will see the introduction of referrals to specialty doctors and a unified drugs policy in January 2016; the third and final stage calls for full implementation by July 2016.
Patsalis reiterated the government’s “four pillars” approach to the philosophy of the proposed NHS. That is, it has to offer universal coverage, fairness in contributions, the free choice of doctor to patients, and financial sustainability.
But a number of prerequisites need to be in place prior to implementing the scheme, including the self-administration of public healthcare facilities and a new role for the Health Ministry.
Taking the floor, one attendee termed the notion of rendering public hospitals self-sufficient in a single year a “joke.”
Some stakeholders, like the union of private healthcare facilities, asked to be included in the deliberations leading up to the allocation of the governmental Health Insurance Organisation’s ‘spherical budget’ – the money to be collected from contributions and spent annually on the entire health scheme.
This was heavily objected by other interest groups, as well as individuals like Andreas Polinikis, who headed the initial design of the NHS more than two decades ago. “Renegotiating provisions of the system we designed will cause massive delays and destroy the balance we instilled,” he pointed out.
Similarly, the representative of private insurance companies argued against the exclusion of private insurance companies – the envisaged NHS will start off as a ‘closed’ system, meaning health insurance will be provided by state insurer HIO, but the prospect of an ‘open’ system at a later point will remain subject to continuous review.
Jobs will be lost, he warned, and the potential advantages of competition will never materialise. But Pieris Pieri, representative of left-wing union PEO, argued that the window left open for private insurers constitutes an unacceptable diversion from what was initially agreed.
Peripheral opinions were not absent, either. One representative of the Green party urged the minister to consider including alternative therapies in the scope of the NHS, while an elderly gentleman who introduced himself as an economist asked Patsalis to provide for the mega-rich foreign executives of international companies who would be asked to contribute 2.55 per cent of their income to the NHS budget.
“This will cause them to leave Cyprus and hurt our economy,” he warned.
Patsalis said he remains interested in hearing people’s point of view. “I would like to ask each of you to forward any suggestions, questions or concerns to my personal mailbox, [email protected],” he said. “We want to hear your voice.”
By Angelos Anastasiou