THE ARBITRATION proceedings initiated by Dutch company Achmea, the owner of the health insurer Union, against the Slovak government, which plans to merge the three existing health insurers and introduce a unitary state system of health insurance, ended with a victory for Slovakia.

“The arbitration court held that the concept and implementation of public health insurance is fully in the hands of the state,” the Finance Ministry informed the SITA newswire. “It also stated that the tribunal has no right to interfere with the democratic process of a sovereign state and has no jurisdiction to adjudicate in this matter.”

Achmea initiated the arbitration proceedings against Slovakia over the impending expropriation of the private health insurance companies, which the Slovak government does not rule out as an option for its plans to launch a single state-operated health insurance company. The Dutch company argued that expropriation would not be in the public interest, subject to due process of law, and would be discriminatory, claiming also that this step would be inconsistent with the bilateral agreement on investments between The Netherlands and the once federative state of Czechoslovakia [which was then split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, ed. note.].

As the Finance Ministry further said, the Dutch company also said its investments were harmed by the action of 17 public hospitals in contract negotiations. At the end of last June, the medical facilities withdrew from contracts with Union, but later sealed the contract. According to the health insurer, however, the termination of the contracts and the subsequent proceedings of the hospitals were not in compliance with the law.

“In its ruling, the tribunal declared that Achmea BV must pay to the Slovak Republic legal costs totalling €1.011 million, as well as all costs of the court totalling over €340,000,” the Finance Ministry informed SITA.

Another arbitration proceeding, concerning the ban on repaying profits of the health insurer to shareholders, dates back to the first tenure of Prime Minister Robert Fico’s government and the verdict in this case is still pending, the Sme daily wrote. Achmea won €25 million in the original verdict, which Slovakia appealed, however.

The Health Ministry considers the decision of the Arbitration Tribunal in the lawsuit against Achmea to be good news for Slovakia, the TASR newswire wrote.

Former health minister Ivan Uhliarik (Christian Democratic Movement, KDH) opined that the Finance Ministry should publish the court’s verdict in its entirety. “We’ve learned only the ministry’s interpretation of it and don’t even know what the indictment looked like,” he told TASR. “But, regardless, the state shouldn’t make decisions on behalf of people as to where they should be insured - that reeks of communism. A total of 1.4 million people are voluntarily insured by private insurers. Smer should respect their freedom of choice.”

Opposition MP Viliam Novotný (Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, SDKÚ) – and a former state secretary at the health ministry – is not surprised by the tribunal’s verdict. “It seemed extremely unusual to me to have someone take legal action over something that is only set to occur in the future ... at a time when it wasn’t even sure it would take place,” he told TASR.

Novotny believes that Achmea chose this particular approach due to a bad experience with the ban on profits for health insurers in Slovakia. He pointed out that because of that lawsuit, Slovakia has approximately €30 million of its assets frozen. He doesn’t expect the latest verdict to sufficiently embolden the government into pursuing its intention of creating a unitary health insurance system.

(Source: SITA, Sme, TASR)
Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská from press reports
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