IT IS difficult not to feel sympathy for health minister Giorgos Pamborides, who has encountered countless obstacles, from all quarters, in his drive to introduce a national health scheme (Gesy). In an interview in the last issue of the Sunday Mail, Pamborides spoke of ‘the unholy alliance’, made up of unions, private doctors, private clinics, insurance companies, politicians and civil servants, that were undermining the ministry’s efforts at every opportunity.
Less resolute ministers would have given up on the project, faced with such opposition from so many quarters, and left it to die by delegating it to committees of civil servants while appeasing the interest groups that were fighting him. This was what several health ministers had done in the past rather than stand up to these groups, but Pamborides, to his credit, made it his mission to introduce Gesy and has never shied away from a confrontation.
There have not been many ministers showing such a level of commitment to a cause and its relentless pursuit. As his reward, he has also been undermined by the president who struck a deal with unions behind his back, a cabinet colleague that openly questioned the viability of Gesy and his own party Disy which sided with the insurance companies. Insurance companies are behind the objections voiced on Monday by the Employers and Industrialists Federation OEV, to the government’s proposal regarding the monthly contributions that would be made by workers and employers for Gesy.
OEV is protecting the interests of some of its members – insurance companies – which will lose a sizeable chunk of revenue if all health cover payments went to the state’s Organisation of Health Insurance. The Federation wants a multi-payer system, even if it is not financially viable for a small population like Cyprus’, in order to protect the interests of the insurance companies, but it does not have the power to block the implementation of Gesy. Private doctors also want a multi-payer system, presumably because this would make it easier to hide their earnings.
It remains to be seen whether OEV, insurance companies and private doctors would be able to block the two government bills, the approval of which, before the summer recess of House, was an imperative according to Pamborides. The minister felt that if the deadline was not met, the plans for Gesy would be dealt a big blow and what momentum there was – the ministry is on the verge of reaching an agreement over pay and conditions with the unions – would be lost.
We had written in the past that Gesy was fast turning into a new Cyprus problem, set to run and run without conclusion. It would be a shame if a minister, sincerely committed to its implementation like Pamborides failed.