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INSURANCE - PRIVATE INSURERS THREATEN LAWSUITS IF NEW LAW IS APPROVED

Ministry blocks objections to health insurance draft

THE DRAFT Act on Health Insurance, in requiring about 60 percent of the population to register with state-owned health insurance companies, could be against the Constitution and Slovakia's international commitments, according to private health insurers.

THE DRAFT Act on Health Insurance, in requiring about 60 percent of the population to register with state-owned health insurance companies, could be against the Constitution and Slovakia's international commitments, according to private health insurers.

The Association of Health Insurance Companies has said that if the law is approved, it could result in Slovakia being sued for billions of crowns under protection of investment laws.

The association objects particularly to a new rule banning firms doing business in health insurance from making a profit.

"The government is putting Slovakia gravely at risk," said Igor Dorčák, the president of the association.

Under the terms of the draft, which was prepared by the Health Ministry, everyone whose health dues were being paid by the state - including women on maternity leave, students, pensioners, the unemployed, and all state employees - would also be forced to leave their private health insurers and register with the state-run Všeobecná health insurance company.

The change would give Všeobecná a 60 percent share of the market, or around 3 million clients.

The country's competition authority, the Anti-Monopoly Bureau, has already sent a letter to the ministry warning that the draft threatens competition on the health insurance market.

Dorčák added that apart from threatening competition, the draft would also give Všeobecná more clients than it could handle.

"The clients of the state insurer could suffer, because there will not be a sufficient supply of health care services and care for them," he said.

Eduard Kováč, the director of the Association of Health Insurance Companies, added that the move would prove costly. "The income of the state insurer would rise by Sk16 billion, but at the same time its expenses would rise by Sk17 billion."

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has rejected a response to the draft signed by 2,700 people - 2,400 through the internet, and 300 on paper forms.

The response, which was initiated by local civic groups including the Health Policy Institute, the Institute for Economic and Social Analyses, the M.R. Štefánik conservative institute, and the Civic Conservative Party, calls for freedom of choice to be maintained in the selection of health insurance companies. It was submitted to the Health Ministry bearing the names and addresses of those who supported it.

However, on February 28 Health Minister Ivan Valentovič said that according to his information the petition had only 146 signatures, and that it would not be accepted.

"The rules on government legislation do not address how mass submissions should be handled, but we regard the Health Ministry's approach as an attempt to prevent the public from making their voice heard on forced re-assignation to another health insurance company," the petition organizers said.

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