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Hungary's junior coalition party warns over healthcare reform

János Kóka, the leader of Hungary's junior coalition party, on Thursday warned that his party could consider pulling out of government if key healthcare reforms are not implemented.

„Keeping the healthcare reform is a condition of the coalition agreement,” said Kóka, who was appointed president of the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) last Saturday. Health Minister Lajos Molnár, an SZDSZ appointee, resigned on Wednesday amid rumors that he had grown tired of a lack of support for his reforms from senior coalition member the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP). The government is in the middle of attempting to reform the healthcare system, and Molnár had been at the centre of the efforts since taking up the job after last April's general elections.

A fee for doctor's visits has been instituted and further plans include a new multi-provider health insurance system and also the closure of certain hospitals and healthcare centers. It is the new insurance system that is supposedly causing the problems, and local media reports claim that Molnár even clashed with Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, who allegedly wants to delay the introduction of the system. However, State Secretary at the prime minister's office Zoltán J. Gál denied this, saying that the departing minister had cited personal reasons when handed in his resignation. The Ministry of Health said it could not shed any light on Molnár's reasons for stepping down. Kóka called the insurance system „the spine of health reform” and said that his party wanted to see it in place by the beginning of 2008. „The MSZP expects us to prove the multi-provider system is better than the current system and we will do that,” Kóka said.

The healthcare reform is part of a government austerity package aimed at lowering the highest budget deficit in percentage terms in the EU. A target of 6.7% of GDP has been set for 2007, a massive step down from the figure of around 10% expected for 2006. The healthcare reforms in particular have been unpopular, with opposition politicians and health professionals calling for Molnár's resignation for some time. The government said that until a new minister could be appointed, state secretary Ágnes Horváth would run the portfolio. According to the SZDSZ's coalition agreement with the Hungarian Socialist Party, the health portfolio belongs to the smaller party, and Kóka said his party would decide on a new minister. (