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Hungary ends free drugs, revamps drug subsidy system

The measures were announced following a two-day government budget meeting on the shores of Hungary's Lake Balaton. The Socialist-led government wants to shrink Hungary's budget deficit, projected to reach 10.1% of gross domestic product this year. The European Union won't let Hungary adopt the euro until it gets control of its finances. „Hungarians, in certain cases, seek medical help when there is no need for it,” the Finance Ministry said in its document outlining the new measures. „The target is to reduce the unnecessary overconsumption of drugs.” Hungary uses more drugs than any other country in eastern Europe, consuming about $220 per capita last year, according to a study by Citigroup Investment Research. The National Health Insurance Fund, Hungary's state-monopoly health insurer, spent Ft 348.9 billion ($1.6 billion) on medicine last year, about a fifth of the state insurer's total medical expenditures. The government plans to restructure the subsidy system to save 0.2% of GDP, according to the Finance Ministry's document. The Health Ministry is working on a concrete plan, the government said in a separate statement. „The government's goal is to decrease the National Health Insurance Fund's expenditures by 0.9% of GDP between 2006 and 2009,” the Finance Ministry said. Beginning next year, Hungarians will have to pay a flat fee of Ft 300 ($1.40) for visits to state doctors, hospitals and specialists, which had previously been free. The government expects this will generate about Ft 30 billion in income, all of which will be retained by the medical institutions, the statement said. The government will also charge a Ft 300 co-payment for prescription drugs that had previously been free. Such measures may help drive down the number of prescriptions down by 4-5%, the Finance Ministry document said. (Bloomberg)