Dentists threaten to protest over delayed payments from health insurers


Health Minister Marie Souckova is facing another barrage of criticism. After her own party, the Social Democrats, rejected her proposed reforms of the health sector last week, it is now the country's dentists who are blaming the minister for failing to solve financial problems in the health sector. Last weekend, close to 700 dentists, that is around 10 percent of all dentists in the Czech Republic, met in Prague at an extraordinary general meeting to voice their protest against overdue payments from health insurance companies, for which the dentists blame the Health Ministry. Jiri Pekarek is the head of the Czech Chamber of Dentists.

"For some time, we have been receiving payments especially from the largest General Health Insurance Company well overdue. Outpatient doctors, including dentists, often don't get paid until 60 days after providing treatment, which also includes substantial expenses, such as payments to laboratories. We have had signals from some health insurers that the advanced payments from the state might cease which would mean that for treatment provided to patients this September dentists and other specialists won't be paid until 2004."

The delay in payments from health insurance companies is, according to the chamber, caused by the Health Ministry which is favouring heavily indebted state-owned hospitals.

The Czech Chamber of Dentists sent an open letter to Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla in which it warns of a total collapse of the healthcare system if problems are not solved quickly. They are proposing a reduction in the range of healthcare covered by public health insurance, they are calling on the government to exact unpaid insurance from state-owned companies and to increase payments for people whose health insurance in covered by the state. Finally, the Czech Chamber of Dentists suggests that the number of hospitals in the country should be reduced and the system of financing of institutional care should be reformed.

The dentists as well as other specialists are ready to stage protests should the crisis deepen. The head of the Czech Chamber of Dentists, Jiri Pekarek.

"In case that the financial existence of surgeries in some of the regions is threatened, we are ready to stage protests - which means a legal suspension in providing outpatient treatment for a limited period of time, with emergency treatment being guaranteed. It does not mean we would suspend our practice for days or weeks, because it is not the patients' fault. It is meant to be a challenge to those who in our view have caused the situation."