THE NATIONAL health scheme is fast turning into one of the longest-running soap operas of Cyprus politics, second only to the Cyprus problem. It has become apparent that the political will to introduce a universal healthcare system does not exist or, to be more precise, governments are terrified of the political cost they will suffer from the unavoidable confrontations with unions and other vested interests. So much so, they would rather keep putting its implementation back.
After all, there is no public pressure to introduce a health system. There are no organised groups holding demonstrations, demanding meetings with the president or pressuring the parties about the scheme. It seems nobody is bothered, because the funding of the scheme would come directly from people’s pockets and businesses through monthly contributions. Another reservation is whether the state authorities would be able to administer such a complex project without wasting hundreds of millions of euro. They made a complete mess of public transport, wasting millions on what should have been an easy project.
For the record, talk of the national health scheme began under the Vassiliou presidency, 25 years ago. The Clerides government also made plans that were never implemented, while the Papadopoulos presidency set up a state service, employing full-time staff, to plan implementation, but nothing was done. The Christofias government did not touch the scheme leaving it, like the bankruptcy of the state, for its successor to deal with. In fact if it were not for the Troika, which included the establishment of a national health scheme in the bailout terms, nobody would be talking about it now.
The government kept putting back the ‘agreed’ introduction of the scheme and the health minister resigned in the summer, after the president gave in to the strike threats of nursing doctors’ unions opposing the hospital autonomy bill. A new minister, George Pamboridis was appointed at the end of July and at every opportunity underlined his commitment to introducing the scheme. At the weekend he said that if he failed in realising this objective he would resign.
A day later, the finance minister Harris Georgiades punctured any optimism, by refusing to give a timeframe for implementation, although the scheme, supposedly, remained in the government’s plans. Perhaps he fears that the cost would be prohibitive or the president may have decided that he does not want to anger the unions. The reality is that the political will to implement the scheme does not exist. Reservations and fears about costs and the ability to manage such a complicated scheme are understandable but if the will existed it would not have become as elusive as the settlement of the Cyprus problem.