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Merkel's coalition delays vote on government's health-care bill

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition is taking extra time to ratify planned changes to health-care rules after state authorities demanded a raft of modifications, a senior Christian Democrat lawmaker said.

Merkel's Christian Democrats and her Social Democrat allies cannot approve the health revamp until the Health Ministry has digested 104 changes proposed by regional governments on December 15 to mitigate the law's financial impact. The lower house of parliament had planned to vote on the bill on January 19. „We will approve the proposed law in the week of January 29 to give CDU and” Bavarian sister party „CSU lawmakers sufficient time for discussion,” Volker Kauder, the Christian Democrats' parliamentary leader, wrote in a letter to CDU legislators obtained by Bloomberg News. Germany, which violated European Union deficit limits in the four years prior to 2006, is aiming to cut health-care costs swelled by longevity, medical advances and more than 4 million unemployed. Merkel's coalition took six months to agree framework changes affecting 70 million people on state-based insurance and 8.4 million enrolled in private health plans.

Germany's 16 state authorities, 10 of which are ruled by Merkel's Christian Democrats, said the planned changes will unduly burden private insurers while inflicting new costs on regional budgets. Health premiums, shared between companies and workers, would rise at least half a percentage point under the proposed law approved by Merkel's cabinet on October 25. The Social Democrat-run „Health Ministry has yet to do its homework, especially to provide answers to those legitimate questions asked by the states,” Kauder wrote in the letter, pledging the law will take effect as planned on April 1. Months of squabbling over health care and related protests by doctors caused the popularity of Merkel's coalition parties to plunge to record lows last year. A December 20 Forsa poll pegged support for the Christian Democrats at 31%, a level the party hasn't polled since Germany's first national election in 1949. (Bloomberg)