AS FROM this month, Slovaks will be given the unique opportunity to pay for their healthcare many times over.
First, they will pay in the form of compulsory insurance contributions. This money goes to the insurance companies, which sometimes refuse to give it to hospitals and doctors' surgeries, saying they don't have enough.
Next, they are given the opportunity to pay the doctors out of their own pockets, to ensure that their operation actually goes ahead and that it is successful.
Then, they are provided with the option to pay their nursing staff to ensure that they are given luxury treatment (such as having their sheets changed).
These last fees do not have to be paid in cash of course; alcohol is accepted at most service points.
And now patients - many of whom are generally not in the best financial circumstances anyway - have to pay for the privilege of receiving any kind of treatment, or being taken by ambulance to the hospital.
Sk20 (€0.49) for a doctors visit may not seem like much, but each visit to a different doctor, each prescription, every ambulance journey and overnight stay in hospital, adds up, and when loss of earnings is factored into the equation, being ill is going to be a very expensive experience.
It is refreshing to see that the government has taken a pragmatic stance. Instead of encouraging people to get healthier by providing free preventative health care, it is punishing them for being ill.
Instead of cutting out the corruption in the healthcare system, it is providing more opportunity for it.
And instead of pumping the extra money into the health system where is needed, 75 percent of the fees will be going to the insurance companies, while the burden of costs for collecting the fees falls on the healthcare facilities.
That cost is not trivial: Nitra teaching hospital is reportedly hiring three parking meters for Sk55,000 (€1,340) a month to administer fees. It seems likely that the cost of hiring three humans would be significantly cheaper. Someone must be profiting handsomely.
Perhaps these costs are linked to the new pension reforms. Discouraging people from using health-care facilities is an innovative way of reducing the number of pensioners in Slovakia.
The health-care system is in desperate need of emergency treatment. The hospitals look more like mid-20th century prisons than 21st century places for healing.
Patients are treated like cattle and will continue to be until real health reform takes place - not financial skulduggery going under the same name.
9. Jun 2003 at 0:00