Milos Zeman. Credit:

President Zeman Vetoes Law Cutting State Healthcare Payments

Czech President Milos Zeman has vetoed a bill that would cut state healthcare payments and introduce indexation from 2024 in the same way as pensions are indexed, the Presidential Office announced to CTK today.

“The approved legislative change threatens the maintenance of the quality and accessibility of health care and does not deal with its necessary improvement in any way,” Zeman wrote to lower house chair Marketa Pekarova Adamova (TOP 09), explaining his veto, according to his spokesman.

Government representatives strongly contest the claim that the lowering of the health insurance paid by the state would have such an impact. Pekarova Adamova told CTK that President Milos Zeman was wrong to say that lowering the healthcare payments paid by the state on behalf of children, pensioners and the unemployed would negatively impact quality and accessibility of healthcare.

She added that the government coalition would override his veto in the Chamber of Deputies, probably at a lower house session in September. The government coalition has the necessary majority in the house needed to override the veto.

Health Minister Vlastimil Valek (TOP 09) also said he considers Zeman’s veto a mistake: “However, this mistake can be easily corrected, which the lower house majority will do soon,” he tweeted. Interior Minister Vit Rakusan (STAN) told journalists he also believes that the veto will be overridden.

The government wanted to save CZK 14 billion in the 2022 state budget by amending the law on health insurance. The state covers health insurance payments on behalf of 5.9 million people, 56 percent of all insured people in the Czech Republic, especially children, pensioners, the unemployed and most students. Roughly a quarter of the income of the Czech public insurance system is from these state payments. Over a half of the money is spent on medical treatment in hospitals. Most of the spending in the public insurance system goes to treatment for children, the elderly and the unemployed.

Zeman argued that the Czech Medical Chamber and health insurance companies had reservations about the planned cutting of insurance payments. However, responding to the veto, Pekarova pointed out that Czech health insurance companies have tens of billions of crowns in their reserve funds.

Lower house deputy Tom Philipp (KDU-CSL), the chair of the administrative board of the biggest health insurance company, state-controlled VZP, said healthcare workers have been waiting for the automatic indexation for years. VZP spokeswoman Viktorie Plivova told CTK that, given the clear stance of the governing coalition, VZP expects the vetoed amendment to take effect.

Finance Minister Zbynek Stanjura (ODS) said the decision by the previous ANO-led government to raise health insurance payments for those on state insurance was based on a pessimistic forecast of a health insurance system deficit of over CZK 50 billion for last year; in fact, after the first six months of 2022, the public health insurance system had a surplus of about CZK 6.5 billion, Stanjura said.

For the opposition, ANO chairman Andrej Babis and deputy group leader Alena Schillerova, as well as the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party, today welcomed the president’s veto of the bill, telling CTK that the government bill threatens the quality and accessibility of health care.

“This was the right decision by the president,” wrote Babis. “The attempt by the government coalition to remove CZK 14 billion from the healthcare sector is unbelievably irresponsible and silly. It wants to do so at the time when the hospitals’ costs are dramatically rising due to the drastic increase in energy prices.” He added that the coronavirus epidemic had confirmed that Czech healthcare is at a high level, and the state should not and cannot economise in this sphere.

The state has been paying CZK 1,967 a month for each insured person since January, CZK 200 more than last year’s monthly payment. Under the vetoed amendment, the monthly payments would drop to CZK 1,497 in the last five months of the year, bringing state payments towards the public health insurance system back down to more or less the same level as in 2021.

The amendment would also introduce the automatic indexation of state health insurance payments from 2024, based on the monthly sum of CZK 1,900 per person to be paid by the state next year. As of 2024, the state health insurance payments would rise with inflation and half of the growth in real wages, and an interannual decrease in payments would no longer be possible. Pekarova said that the regular indexation of the health insurance paid by the state guarantees stable and predictable financing of health care, and therefore ensures its quality and accessibility. According to preliminary calculations, the state would pay CZK 1,982 per person per month in 2024 and CZK 2,024 crowns in 2025.

Health Ministry spokesman Ondrej Jakob said the vetoed bill also included other important changes, such as a marked increase in health insurance companies’ prevention funds, from which contributions are distributed to their clients for treatment that was otherwise not covered.