For many years getting spa treatment covered by the state was one of the benefits afforded by health sector and all one needed to do was ask one’s doctor, citing a real or imaginary problem that a month of pampering at one of the country’s famous spas would put right. Since the 1990s a gradual overhaul of the health sector has made it increasingly difficult to avail oneself of this luxury and a new directive introduced as of October 1st has drawn a sharp line between those who really need spa treatment and those who are just there for the pampering.
Taking the waters in Karlovy Vary, a mud bath in Luhačovice or so-called Scottish Jets at Mariánské Lázně – a rather drastic procedure where one is alternately sprayed with hot and cold jets of water – was a popular form of well-being therapy for people over 30 in the past. In fact men and women alike regarded it as their own private holiday – an escape from household chores, no arguments with family members and sometimes even a short romantic fling. That world has gradually disappeared and an ongoing restructuring of the health sector means a free holiday is no longer yours for the asking.
The number of spa treatments recommended by doctors –and thereby covered by health insurance companies – have halved since 2010. Now the introduction of a new directive will make spa treatment an even bigger luxury. According to the new rules the length of spa treatment paid for by insurance companies will be reduced from 4 to 3 weeks. Spa treatment will only be available once in two years and for some health problems that have been treated in spas in the past they will not be available at all. Many older Czechs are groaning, but deputy health minister Ferdinand Polák says this is not withholding proper care to those who need it.
The tighter net is expected to save more than half a billion crowns annually and it is not only patients who feel hard-done-by. The country’s large network of spas which offers a cure for numerous ailments will be hard hit and spas which have not branched out into wellness services may be in big trouble. The president of the Association of Czech Spas Eduard Bláha says the last two years have been increasingly difficult.
“We have all gradually been laying off staff and there are some spas that have had problems paying their employees’ wages.”
The country’s best-known spas such as Karlovy Vary or Mariánské Lázně are safe largely because they expanded their services years ago taking paying clients from abroad. In the past decade they have become increasingly popular with German and Russian tourists but also with clients from Austria, the Scandinavian countries, Israel, the US, and Canada. The smaller and less well-known spas will have to rethink their philosophy and in addition to treating insurance-covered patients they will need to expand their services to the locals at an affordable price. Many are now offering a weekend of pampering to overworked managers and week-long spa treatments tailored to an aging population. But since the former have little time and the latter little money the future for many struggling spas looks increasingly bleak.
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