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Hungary to end free medical care for health-insurance cheaters

Hungarians who don't pay into the country's health insurance will soon be ineligible for most state-funded medical care, as the government seeks to eliminate overspending in its health budget.

Doctors from April 1 will be required to enter patients' names into an online database to ensure they're making regular payments to the state health insurer, State Secretary for Health Ágnes Horváth said at a press conference in Budapest today. Patients not on the list will be eligible for care until January 1, 2008, after which they'll have to pay, she said. Hungary is clamping down on health care spending as part of its larger battle to trim the budget deficit, which reached an estimated 10% of GDP last year. The European Union will not allow Hungary to adopt the euro until it gets its finances under control. An estimated 500,000 Hungarians are „freeloaders” who force others to pay for their medical treatment, Horváth said. Hungary's state health insurer spent nearly Ft 1.6 trillion ($8.2 billion) in 2005, while taking in only Ft 1.2 trillion, according to the state insurer's Web site. „The problem could come from many sources,” Horváth said. „It could be the employer who's not paying contributions, or the government, or the patient could be at fault. If a person is not on the list, we are giving them time to sort out the problem.” Hungary is also debating whether to let private companies offer health insurance in the country, Horváth said, adding no decision has been made. The government last year introduced a three-tiered insurance system. The first package includes emergency services to which anyone is entitled, regardless of whether they pay contributions. The second includes general medical services and will be available only to those who pay contributions. The third tier includes supplementary services, such as elective surgery, for which patients must pay out-of-pocket. (Bloomberg)