A STATE-run health insurer emerged the winner of the battle for the remaining policyholders of Slovakia’s smallest health insurer, which closed up shop in May citing unfavourable legislation.
Európska Zdravotná Poisťovňa (EZP) left more than 125,000 clients on the market, 76,000 of which switched to a different provider by the end of last month. Under the current law, Slovaks can transfer to a new insurer as of January if they are dissatisfied with their present insurer, provided that they applied for it by the end of September. The remaining approximately 50,000 policyholders will be transferred to the state-run Spoločná Zdravotná Poisťovňa (SZP) as of January 1, the Healthcare Supervision Office (ÚDZS) announced on October 21.
But private health insurer Dôvera is laying claim to those policyholders, contending that it concluded an agreement with EZP’s liquidator to take them over. Dôvera said that it notified the ÚDZS of the agreement on October 19, two days before the ÚDZS made its announcement.
Dôvera was willing to pay tens of millions of crowns for the policyholders. Yet the ÚDZS transferred them to SZP for free.
Milan Michalič, a spokesman for the ÚDZS, denied that the office had been notified of the agreement before October 21.
“Dôvera's interest was reported in the media, but it was not formally delivered to this office,” he told The Slovak Spectator.
He explained that, on August 27, the office ordered EZP’s liquidator to oversee the transfer of the policyholders to a different health insurer. But in October EZP began bankruptcy proceedings, and the ÚDZS was left with the decision about where to transfer them.
As for why the office made the transfer for free, Michalič said that only the liquidator had the authority to sell them.
But Dôvera maintains that it communicated its interest in time.
“We made our interest in these policyholders clear,” Zuzana Horníková, a spokeswoman for Dôvera, told The Slovak Spectator. “There was no reason to negotiate with the ÚDZS because we negotiated directly with EZP’s liquidator, which had the authority.”
Horníková said that the ÚDZS was immediately informed after the agreement with the liquidator was reached.
“The office had the information that we were ready to take over the policyholders and pay for them, if not on Sunday (October 19) then certainly on Monday (October 20),” Horníková said.
Horníková said that much will depend now on EZP’s bankruptcy proceedings and what steps the trustee will take, since it can appeal the office’s decision through the courts.
Peter Pažitný of the Slovak Health Policy Institute think-tank told The Slovak Spectator that the ÚDZS made the wrong decision.
“First, legislation does not support a permanent transfer of policyholders,” Pažitný said.
He argued that the ÚDZS had the power to order the transfer of the policyholders, but did not have the power to decide to which insurer they would be transferred.
“After an agreement between the parties, the office’s only role is to approve the transfer,” Pažitný said.
Second, the ÚDZS made a decision despite an existing agreement between Dôvera and EZP’s liquidator, he said. Third, the office’s decision deprived the healthcare providers to whom EZP is still indebted of tens of millions of crowns, he concluded.
EZP began operating in Slovakia in January 2007, attracting a 2 percent market share by the start of 2008.