France unveils curb on health spending

18th May 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 18 (AFP) - French Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy met sceptical trade union leaders on Tuesday to explain the government's new plans to overhaul the country's heavily indebted health insurance system.

PARIS, May 18 (AFP) - French Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy met sceptical trade union leaders on Tuesday to explain the government's new plans to overhaul the country's heavily indebted health insurance system.

With France's spiralling social security deficit expected to hit EUR 12.9 billion (USD 15.5 billion) in 2004, Douste-Blazy went on state television late Monday to present a raft of cost-cutting measures.

The deficit is a large component of the overall public deficit which has put France in breach of eurozone rules covering public finances.

But union leaders criticised the reform plan - which would ask patients to pay EUR 1 per medical consultation, encourage use of generic drugs and crack down on sick leave abuse - and called for street protests on June 5.

Douste-Blazy said the centre-right government hoped the initiative would generate 15 billion to EUR 16 billion in annual savings and stave off the creation of a "two-speed" system in a country that prides itself on quality health care.

"If the system is not saved, we'll be left with two-speed medical care.

Those with the most modest incomes will receive the worst care," the minister warned on France 2.

To repair the ailing system, which Douste-Blazy said was losing "EUR 23,000 a minute", the minister said patients would be encouraged to consult general practitioners before seeing a specialist or face lower reimbursements.

He backed the use of computerized records within two years as a way to trace a patient's medical history and pinpoint possible abuses such as over-prescription of drugs.

Douste-Blazy proposed a EUR 1 co-payment per medical visit, except for children and the most disadvantaged. He also called for a slight increase in social charges paid by retirees, as well as some companies.

"We have to provide better care while spending less," concluded the minister.

As he launched talks with union leaders on Tuesday, Douste-Blazy expressed confidence that a deal could be hammered out, saying: "There is a common willingness to reach an agreement."

He gave a breakdown of the estimated EUR 15 billion in savings, saying the plan was based on nine to EUR 10 billion in savings on spending and between EUR 4 to EUR 5 billion in new revenues.

But both union leaders and the left-wing Socialist-led opposition criticized the proposal - expected to be debated in parliament in July - saying it would deprive the most needy of decent care.

"We're moving toward a bare minimum service in the social security system," said Bernard Thibault, head of the hardline CGT.

Jean-Claude Mailly, head of Force Ouvriere, told reporters after meeting with Douste-Blazy: "It's not a done deal - far from it."

The head of the Socialist group in the lower-house National Assembly, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said Douste-Blazy had "diagnosed a serious illness and in reality is not proposing any serious remedy."

France's leading newspapers also raised questions about the plan, one of several aimed at reining in public spending in a bid to pay off the country's swollen public deficit, which is currently in breach of EU euro zone rules.

"The sicker you are, the more you will pay - that is not a sign of social justice," the left-leaning Liberation said of Douste-Blazy's plan in a commentary under the headline "Charlatanism".

"The current state of accounting in the health insurance system no longer allows for half measures," the conservative Le Figaro said Tuesday in its editorial.

"Strength of conviction will be needed to get more than just a patch-up job stemming from compromises extracted under duress," the newspaper added.


© AFP

Subject: French news

 

 

0 Comments To This Article