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No changes to gov’t, health reform goes on

A cabinet reshuffle in Hungary is not on the agenda and the government will push on overhauling the ailing health sector, the coalition parties said.

Leaders of the two parties denied media reports of a rift in the coalition and that the socialists (MSzP) had planned to snatch the health ministry away from their much smaller liberal partners (SzDSz) to put the brakes on healthcare reform.

“One thing we definitely agreed on today is that there won't be a cabinet reshuffle or ministry swap,” Health Minister Ágnes Horváth said after a meeting of senior members in both parties.

Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, who also heads the socialists, called the meeting under pressure from his party to reconsider or possibly abandon the health reform after losing an opposition-backed referendum that struck down doctor visit fees.

But he said no change at the ministry was on the agenda and the parties only discussed how to press forward with the reform - meant to relieve pressure from the bloated state budget - and did not considering abandoning the sector's overhaul.

The government has sought to introduce private capital into the run-down health system because it lacks the funds to do it on its own and must also cut the biggest budget deficit in 27-nation European Union.

A recently passed health bill would introduce private insurers as of next year and generate fresh capital of at least Ft 120 billion ($733.7 million) from the sale of 49% stakes in new funds.

But the opposition has threatened to initiate another referendum over the privatization in a vote also likely succeed, giving rise to further concern among the socialists.

Some MSzP MPs, including Parliamentary group leader Ildikó Lendvai, say the government must halt the selloff in the sector, but the liberals say private capital is necessary.

“The introduction of private capital for SzDSz is an absolute priority,” Horváth said. “Without it, there's no improvement in efficiency.”

The two parties agreed to continue negotiations next week. (Reuters)