Dutch coalition averts crisis over healthcare reform

19th December 2014, Comments 0 comments

The Dutch government late on Thursday averted a looming crisis over deficit-busting healthcare reforms that threatened to topple the centre-left ruling coalition, reaching an agreement to amend the contentious bill.

"We step-by-step worked on a solution and I am glad it has been found," Labour Party (PvdA) leader Diederik Samsom told the NOS public broadcaster after emerging from two days of emergency talks to avert the worst crisis to hit the Dutch government since its formation in 2012.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and its junior PvdA coalition partner were thrown into disarray on Tuesday night.

A seemingly routine nod to cut healthcare costs by one billion euros ($1.2 billion), according to Dutch media reports, was voted down by three Labour senators in the 75-seat upper house of parliament.

The plan, which aims to introduce a cheaper medical insurance package by 2016 to supplement existing packages, was approved by lawmakers in the 150-seat lower house in June.

It is part of the government's plan to reduce its deficit to below three percent of gross domestic product, in line with European Union rules.

All Dutch residents are legally obliged to take out medical health insurance.

But three Labour senators unexpectedly opposed the plan, which has to be approved by the upper house before it can become law.

The original proposal offers cheaper health coverage, but allows insurers to choose healthcare professionals -- like doctors or specialists -- instead of their clients.

Labour lawmakers in the lower house supported the plan and Health Minister Edith Schippers also canvassed support from three other opposition parties for it to get approval in the senate, where the ruling coalition lacks a majority.

The three Labour senators, however, unexpectedly opposed the plan, saying it gave health insurers too much power and blocked patients from making their own choices.

Labour leader Samsom said late Thursday night the amended bill "will now include an opportunity to allow patients the freedom to choose their own doctors and strengthen their position in relation to health insurers".

It will now be returned to the lower house before being re-submitted to the senate for approval.

Rutte himself cancelled plans to attend a European Union meeting in Brussels on Thursday to deal with the crisis at home.

Commentators say the impasse pointed to a deep crisis within the Labour Party, which has seen its popularity plummet in latest opinion polls to a predicted 15 seats, down from the 38 seats it won in September 2012 elections.

© 2014 AFP

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