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Health minister is ready to compromise on reform in Hungary

Hungary’s recently appointed Health Minister Ágnes Horváth on Tuesday said she was ready to compromise in a row over healthcare reform between the two members of the governing coalition.

The government is reforming the healthcare system as part of efforts to reduce the nation’s huge budget deficit, but the two parties have been unable to agree over plans for a multi-insurer system. Previous Health Minister Lajos Molnár resigned in April, allegedly because the senior coalition member, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), was stalling on the insurance reform.

Rumors in the media have suggested that Horváth, an appointee of the junior coalition Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), could also face the chop for being too inflexible. Horváth, however, said her job was secure and that she was prepared to bend on her plans to up to a certain point. „I am ready for compromise ... but to find a compromise it means there must be some professional borders that can’t be stepped through or the system doesn’t work,” she said.

She said that the two parties agreed that there should be competition amongst providers, but had harsh words for the MSZP’s proposals. „One party has a complex solution that we know could work and the other party is not ready with what they should do,” she said. „We are looking for a solution from the MSZP ... once we have this, we will be ready for compromise.”

Horváth believes the multi-insurer system would resolve shortfalls in the national healthcare fund, provide more choice to patients and improve quality of service, which she acknowledged was currently poor. She said that billions of dollars would be available to improve infrastructure and also said that the ministry planned to put hospitals’ mortality data on the internet so that patients could choose which institution to visit for certain operations.

The healthcare reform has proven the most unpopular of the measures introduced by the government to combat the deficit, which at 9.2% of gross domestic product in 2006 was by far the largest in the EU. A fee for doctors’ visits has been instituted, the hospital network has been restructured and beds have been cut, all factors that have contributed to public unhappiness.

The main opposition party Fidesz has requested a referendum for next year, which will deal with the doctor’s visit fee and other issues, in an effort to take advantage of the negative opinions. (