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LEGISLATION FOCUS - STATE INTENDS TO NATIONALIZE PRIVATE FIRMS, CRITICS SAY

Health bill horrifies private insurers

THE AMENDMENT to the Act on Health Insurance, which the Health Ministry submitted to cabinet review on February 7, proposes to force about one million Slovak citizens as of July 1 to abandon their current private sector health insurance providers and register with state-owned insurers.

THE AMENDMENT to the Act on Health Insurance, which the Health Ministry submitted to cabinet review on February 7, proposes to force about one million Slovak citizens as of July 1 to abandon their current private sector health insurance providers and register with state-owned insurers.

According to the draft, all people whose health insurance dues are covered by the state - including pensioners, children, the unemployed, and state employees, or together around 3.3 million people - will have to hold policies with the Všeobecná or the Spoločná public insurance companies.

"The state pays the most in health care dues, so it should have better supervision over the money it puts into the system," the ministry said in a statement.

While as of July the state will force all of the people affected to register with Všeobecná, as of January 2008 they will also be allowed to register with Spoločná.

However, Health Minister Ivan Valentovič cannot count on the support of the ruling HZDS party for the draft. The HZDS has said it wants to preserve free choice at least for children, students and pensioners. "The debate on this law is going to be a long one," said HZDS vice-chairman Milan Urbáni.

On the other hand, both the Smer and SNS ruling parties believe that health care insurance dues money raised from contributors should remain in public hands, and not go towards profits for private health care insurers.

"We have to have a system in which money that goes towards health insurance remains in the health care system," said Štefan Zelník of the SNS. "It is inappropriate for some health insurance companies to make a profit just because they have fewer sick clients."

Zelní called for the introduction of a system of supplementary insurance that would allow people to take out extra policies with private companies beyond the public system.

However, the forced re-registration clause was not the only one that raised hackles in the proposed bill. The Association of Health Insurance Companies (ZZP), for example, fears the draft will result in the nationalization of private health insurance companies.

ZZP president Igor Dorčák noted at a press conference on February 6 that the bill defines a health insurance company as "a joint-stock company established for a purpose other than to do business."

ZZP lawyers are now analyzing this sentence because the health insurance companies do not know how to adjust their activities to comply with the revision.

Dorčák said the regulation could be unconstitutional. "With this provision, the ministry is introducing retroactivity and wants to nationalize private health insurance companies," Dorčák said for the SITA news wire.

The Health Ministry said the association's concerns were misplaced. It argues that health insurers do not own but only administer the health insurance dues of contributors, and also control the availability of health care services.

The Fico government earlier this year announced its intention of banning health insurers from making a profit.

"The real mission of non-profit public health insurers is not to generate a profit but to serve their clients. This is why public resources cannot be used to create a profit for shareholders," the ministry said in a statement.

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