Merkel faces new row over health system reform

18th December 2006, Comments 0 comments

18 December 2006, Berlin (dpa) - The most ambitious reform project of Chancellor Angela Merkel's power-sharing government was under threat on Monday less than two months after winning cabinet approval.

18 December 2006

Berlin (dpa) - The most ambitious reform project of Chancellor Angela Merkel's power-sharing government was under threat on Monday less than two months after winning cabinet approval.

Prominent regional leaders in Merkel's conservative bloc have threatened to withdraw support for an overhaul of the nation's creaky health-care system because of the costs involved.

Edmund Stoiber, prime minister of the southern state of Bavaria, Monday demanded renegotiations on key points of the plan approved by the government on October 25.

Stoiber and his counterparts in Hesse and Baden-Wuerttemberg, fear taxpayers in these states would have to pay more than originally calculated into a new health fund planned by the government.

The Bavarian premier said he would not give his approval to the new bill when it comes before the upper house of parliament as long as the issue of contributions remains unclear.

Criticism of the plan by the Christian Democrat and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) premiers has come as an embarrassment to the chancellor, who has promised to reexamine the issue of financing.

The health reform had earlier threatened to split her coalition with the Social Democrats, but the two sides agreed to a compromise despite criticism from doctors and economists that it was too expensive.

Some 90 per cent of Germany's 82 million population are covered by the public heath insurance system, which costs 140 billion euros (186 billion dollars) annually.

Most aspects of the new bill are due to come into force on April 1, but the health care fund, which distributes money between the country's 250 public health insurers, will not start until 2009.

Contributions to the new fund would be based on the personal income of those insured. The three states objecting to the health fund are among the wealthiest in Germany. They argue their voters would have to pay much more than residents of poorer eastern German states where unemployment is well above the national average of 10 per cent.

The lower house of parliament is due to debate the bill in January and the upper house, made up of representatives of Germany's federal states, is scheduled to debate it in February.

Social Democrat health expert Karl Lauterbach called on the government Monday to shelve the introduction of the health fund until 2010.

DPA

Subject: German news

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