TCS Daily


Losing Their Patients

By Tomasz Teluk - March 4, 2005 12:00 AM

Poland is the least satisfied Central European nation when it comes to healthcare services, according to a new survey from the Central European Opinion Research Group Research (CEORG) in Brussels.

The January 2005 study shows that 60 percent of the people are very unsatisfied with the quality of governmental healthcare service. Their disappointment no doubt is the result of the decision by the leftwing party SLD (Left-Democrats Alliance) to stop healthcare reform in 1999. Only 18 percent of the population is satisfied, but they are most likely patients who are able to use private doctors' offices and clinics.

The situation is the same in Slovakia, where 53 percent of the people are unsatisfied with healthcare service and only 11 percent are satisfied. It is better in Czech Republic: 34 percent of Czechs are satisfied and 28 percent are disappointed. In Hungary, 23 percent are satisfied. But almost every Central European citizen agrees that nothing has improved during the last few years.

Wlodzimierz Derczynski from CBOS, a research group that does public opinion polls in Poland, says that Poles are very critical about steps undertaken by the government since 1999. In the last two years, financial and organizational problems have been tormenting patients. Jan Cervenka from the Czech Republic's CVVM says his compatriots have accepted the moves toward privatization of health care during the last 15 years and that explains the higher level of satisfaction.

Private health insurance is not so popular in Europe, where state health monopolies predominate According to the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies (EOHSP), Europeans are paying less than 5 percent of their total healthcare spending for private insurance.

Voluntary health insurance is becoming more popular in France, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy and Ireland. The Dutch are preparing for the privatization of healthcare in 2006. From this year, patients there will not pay taxes for healthcare anymore, but will buy healthcare insurance with a long-term investment option on the capital market. Today, in Ireland, half the population has private insurance and 20 percent of hospital beds are provided by privately-owned clinics, based on data from the Irish Health Insurance Authority.

Experts at the CATO Institute have shown that radical free-market healthcare reform can turn social security system into a successful business. The American social security system has a deficit of $26 trillion, but through privatization, it could make a profit in 2018. Michael Tanner from CATO estimates that only half of the monthly fee should be privately invested. In 1997 Harvard economist Martin Feldstein estimated that the world's biggest governmental program could make $10-20 trillion in profit if people invested individually. The American way of reform is a good alternative for Europe.

What will be the future shape of European healthcare? We should ask the European Commission. Judging from the first few months of its mandate, we know its members are not likely to support meaningful healthcare reform. Brussels is against lifting state monopolies on basic healthcare services. I am not optimistic about the new Health Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou of Cyprus. One Cypriot journalist says this Cambridge and Harvard educated politician is "liberal in social matters and conservative in finance", according to a profile in European Voice. Kyprianou is also enthusiastic about the EU's anti-tobacco efforts, including smoking bans. He prefers to replace individual responsibility with governmental baby-sitting. Kyprianou is at least open-minded. And, after all, he quit smoking, so maybe he can kick the socialized medicine habit that is also seriously dangerous to one's health.

It is sad that the European debate on healthcare is dominated by ideology rather than practicality. There is also a kind of fixation on the government. European intellectuals are blind to think that government can solve all their problems. They spout nonsense like a quote recently made by Anita Hardon, from Amsterdam University: "Relying on the pharmaceutical industry, we are relying on those whose first goal is profit, not health."

This absurdity shows only ignorance of economics. Market position depends on the efficiency of treatment in private medicine. If a pharmaceutical company produces inadequate drugs they will go bankrupt and disappear. Intellectuals shut their eyes to the harmful government healthcare monopoly. The current system provides ineffective treatment, but it cannot go bankrupt because it is sustained by taxes and compulsory insurance. The truth is that government violates the patient's right to healthcare. And the patients are not happy about it.

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