SLOVAK patients did not end up becoming hostages in a dispute between the state-run health insurer and outpatient physicians over the amount that Všeobecná Zdravotná Poisťovňa (VšZP) provides to doctors for each patient they treat. The doctors sought higher payments to help them cover salary increases granted to nurses by legislation passed by the Slovak parliament earlier this year and the doctors said that if they failed to reach an agreement on contracts with the insurer, they would start charging patients for treatment and patients would be required to pay for their prescriptions as well. After several days of intense negotiations the doctors announced on July 4 that they had agreed to new contracts with the state-run VšZP, the SITA newswire reported.
The physicians’ contracts with VšZP, the country’s largest health insurer that serves 3.5 million people, terminated on June 30 but the new agreement means that the doctors will continue to provide treatment without charge and prescription medications will be covered as in the past, said Marian Kollár, the president of the Slovak Medical Chamber.
After negotiations earlier were deadlocked, most doctors did not start charging patients who have their health insurance with VšZP, but the Sme daily did report that some patients were required to pay the full price for their prescriptions.
The compromise reached between the Slovak Medical Chamber and VšZP will grant general practitioners an increase of 8 percent in payments from the insurer, with specialists receiving 5 percent more compared to their previous contracts. The parties also agreed on increasing the number of points on which payments for routine preventive exams are based for pediatricians and general practitioners, SITA reported.
The contracts between the doctors and VšZP will be valid for one year and the agreed upon payment levels can be renegotiated after six months, according to SITA.
“It’s true that VšZP, along with the entire health-care system, has had to manage with very low budgets over recent years after premiums for employees were reduced,” Kollár told TASR, adding that the negotiations were difficult. “We took all the circumstances into account and accepted conditions and contracts that were the only ones possible at the moment.”
Kollár added that the physicians are still very far from being totally satisfied.
Health Minister Zuzana Zvolenská, who had previously called the physicians’ demands inappropriately high, welcomed the agreement and thanked the physicians for not letting the dispute affect care of their patients.
On July 2 Zvolenská had urged Slovaks not to pay any fees requested by doctors due to the dispute with VšZP.
“You are entitled to free health care,” Zvolenská stated, as quoted by TASR. “Please do not pay any doctors' fees.”
Fico considers one state insurer
Prime Minister Robert Fico stated on July 2 that the profit level of Dovera, one of Slovakia’s two privately-owned health insurers, was the same amount as the government’s financial reserve that was used to cover the minimum salary increases for nurses and doctors. Fico said that he considered Dovera’s €40 million in profit as coming from public funds and suggested that the state should begin the process of negotiating for the purchase of the private insurers, SITA wrote.
“On one hand we are struggling and seeking reserves but on the other hand someone takes slices from public funds,” Fico stated, as quoted by SITA.
Dovera has not rejected the idea of having discussions with the government over its purchase.
MP Radoslav Procházka from the opposition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) stated that he does not believe Fico’s proposal to have all health insurance under one state-run company would bring savings or result in better financing of the health-care sector.