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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Ovce

SHEEP (ovce) are not known for their deep interest in public health insurance. But in Slovakia, they have become key players in the debate about its planned nationalisation. It started off with the “We are not sheep!” ad campaign, in which the privately-owned insurer Union fights against unifying all the health insurers into one. This week health minister Zuzana Zvolenská brought Ove, a sheep doll, to the cabinet meeting. “Today, Ove and I would like to tell the government that we have made up our minds,” said Zvolenská. “We really want only a single firm.“

SHEEP (ovce) are not known for their deep interest in public health insurance. But in Slovakia, they have become key players in the debate about its planned nationalisation. It started off with the “We are not sheep!” ad campaign, in which the privately-owned insurer Union fights against unifying all the health insurers into one. This week health minister Zuzana Zvolenská brought Ove, a sheep doll, to the cabinet meeting. “Today, Ove and I would like to tell the government that we have made up our minds,” said Zvolenská. “We really want only a single firm.“

One problem with this publicity stunt is that it’s unclear what it was supposed to mean. Is Zvolenská trying to say that her proposals are in fact aimed at sheep, but the sheep seem to be happy? But the bigger issue is that the minister sounds determined to unify the insurance system no matter what. And the Constitutional Court has in the past ruled that no law or government measure can dictate expropriation – every individual case has to be judged separately, and if the state fails to prove a strong public interest in taking each specific piece of private property, expropriation is not possible. Given that the administration has so far failed to provide evidence that a unified health insurance system has any sort of advantage over the current one, or that the state would do a better job at serving patients than private firms have done so far, this will be a problem.

The case of Dušan Muňko, who has just been re-appointed to head Sociálna Poisťovňa, the public social insurance company, but decided to also keep his parliamentary seat, shows how little interest political appointees that run most state institutions usually have in their jobs. Few top managers in the private sector would find enough time for another full-time job.

The motivation behind the health-insurance “reform” remains unclear. Smer may be just bluffing to gain political points with socialist voters and will in the end give up on the project. Or the scheme was in fact designed to help the Penta financial group, which owns the Dôvera insurance company, get out of the difficult business and earn some easy profit. There is also a slim chance that Prime Minister Robert Fico actually believes that in a time of crisis there is no better way to spend loads of cash than to buy or expropriate private insurers and hand their business over to the state. Whatever is behind it, the case for taking away patients’ freedom of choice and private companies’ property is weak both factually and legally.

But at least Ove is happy.

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