Health Minister steps down due to "diverging views"
Health Minister Danijel Bešič Loredan resigned on 7 July after being asked to do so by Prime Minister Robert Golob, who said the two had conceptual differences regarding the development of the Slovenian healthcare system.
"The resignation is logical and expected," Golob said at a hastily convened press conference, adding that the two did not see eye to eye "on how to make sure public healthcare returns to its old glory."
The two had been close allies since Golob first launched his political career and Bešič Loredan was one of the three deputy prime ministers, highlighting the high priority that health reform had in the government.
However, the relationship has been fraught for a while and earlier this year Golob took charge of health reform and appointed a strategic council for health under a fiercely independent oncologist and prominent critic of the minister, both moves interpreted as an attempt to sideline the minister.
Today, the two had a meeting and Golob gave the minister a resignation letter to sign, which Bešič Loredan said he promptly did.
Golob did not go into detail about the reasons for the move but he indicated that one major point of divergence was an emergency law under which budget funds were secured for unlimited extra health services.
Under the law, private providers made significant amounts of money, but often for high-value services that did little to contribute to the desired goal of reduced waiting times. The law has recently been amended so that private clinics are no longer eligible for the extra funding.
"The emergency law was not a complete success, nor a complete failure, but we diverged conceptually on how much money was channelled to private providers," Golob said.
He noted that his party, the Freedom Movement, remained united in its commitment to protect public healthcare at all cost and strengthen public health institutions.
"We are united in our determination to continue pursuing health reform the way we set out to a year ago... We are united in the desire to strengthen public institutions, everything else is subordinated to that," said Golob.
The resignation comes just a day after the passage of a major law that folds supplementary health insurance, a flat-rate contribution that nearly everyone pays, into a mandatory contribution.
The law has been described by the coalition as "historical" given that many governments have tried to get rid of what is in effect a regressive tax but had failed - until now.
In his first reaction, the minister said he wanted to improve the healthcare system and bring it closer to the people. "But if I'm unable to do it at the moment, I'm no longer prepared to perform this job."
According to him, his team at the ministry did everything that was in their power. He said he wished that those who continue to fight for the citizens keep their courage.
End of months of uncertainty
The minister's fate has hung in the balance for months. Health reform has been designated by the government as the main priority and he has been criticised, even from the ranks of the coalition, for its slow implementation and sometimes poor communication.
Recently, he faced a barrage of public criticism from Erik Brecelj, the chair of the government's strategic council for healthcare, who has for years been an outspoken critic of successive health ministers.
The criticism by Brecelj and other advocates of public healthcare revolved around Bešič Loredan allegedly favouring private healthcare providers at the expense of public institutions.
It did not help things that even as minister, he worked part-time as orthopaedic surgeon for the largest private clinic in the country, owned by a doctor who is seen as a powerful advocate of the privatisation of healthcare.
The Freedom Movement endorsed Bešič Loredan earlier this week as it described a motion of no confidence lodged by the Democrats (SDS) as political grandstanding.
However, unofficial reports from a meeting of the deputy group that lasted several hours indicated the debate was fraught.
Coalition partners not surprised
Both coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SD) and the Left, were displeased with Bešič Loredan as well and they said today that the resignation was expected.
"The minister did not succeed in making progress where progress was needed most to improve people's health and strengthen the public health system," SD leader Tanja Fajon said.
Luka Mesec, leader of the Left, said the party, as a staunch advocate of public healthcare, had not seen eye to eye with Bešič Loredan for a long time, especially with regard to the role of private providers.
Analyst Aljaž Pengov Bitenc, a prominent political podcaster, sees the minister's departure as the first serious blow the government has suffered.
"Golob placed a large wager on Bešič Loredan, he invested a lot of political capital in him. None of it has worked out. We can see this as Golob's first serious political defeat," he said.