New bill to cut waiting times for health services

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Ljubljana – The government adopted on Friday an emergency bill estimated at over EUR 200 million that is designed to reduce waiting times for health services. The core provision is the removal of the cap on the number of services that the public health insurer pays in a given year.

“All health services will be paid … and all forces directed at the primary level to stabilise it,” Health Minister Danijel Bešič Loredan said after the government session.

So far the Health Insurance Institute (ZPIZ) has paid only a certain number of services per year under what is known as the general agreement in healthcare.

Once the cap was reached, services were either not performed, or hospitals performed them but were not paid for the service, racking up losses.

The unlimited funding will be available from 1 September this year to the end of 2023.

Bešič Loredan expects that waiting times overall will be cut by 40% in six months, while some of the longest waiting times are to be cut by 70% in two years.

A new body, an office for oversight, quality and investments in healthcare, will be in charge of systematic oversight of waiting times. It will be headed by Aleš Šabeder, a former health minister.

This is expected to improve the quality of data. Minister Bešič Loredan said there would now be a clear overview of waiting times at the monthly level.

Another major set of provisions introduces bonuses for extra workload for health teams, and special bonuses for doctors’ offices working in disadvantaged areas.

Additionally, the governing councils of public health organisations will be overhauled. They will have fewer members, but they will have more responsibilities and will be paid more.

The two main organisations representing doctors voiced scepticism about the bill’s ability to address chronic problems in healthcare.

The Medical Chamber said private practitioners had been neglected, and it lamented the absence of measures to encourage young doctors to pick residencies at the primary level.

Fides, the trade union of doctors and dentists, said the desired result would not be achieved since permanent systemic solutions to properly remunerate staff are the only way to stabilise the system.

While the bill has been confirmed, one of the coalition parties, the Left, opposes provisions under which concessionaires would be paid for extra services just like any other public provider.

The party thinks public providers should be given priority, followed by concessionaires and finally private practices, according to Left leader Luka Mesec, the minister of labour.

He said another round of consultations will be held before the bill is put to parliament.

Bešič Loredan said the bill included a number of safeguards to make sure public providers are not weakened and was confident a compromise solution will be found even though he says it is impossible at this point to make a clear distinction between public providers and concessionaires since both are a part of the public healthcare system.