Monday, January 16, 2012

Romania withdraws controversial healthcare bill

(Reuters) - Romania's government pulled its controversial draft healthcare reform bill on Friday after street protests and criticism from experts who say it lacked detail on private sector involvement and risked further damaging the outdated medical system.

This is the first time Prime Minister Emil Boc's centrist coalition government, which enforced painful austerity measures under an IMF-led aid deal, has withdrawn legislation under pressure from demonstrators.

"I understand many are content with the current healthcare system," President Traian Basescu said on Friday. "Under these circumstances ... I am publicly asking the prime minister to withdraw the healthcare reform project."

Deputy Health Minister Raed Arafat, a highly respected doctor, resigned this week after criticizing the draft bill and being confronted by Basescu, a supporter of the project.

His resignation sparked street protests, with hundreds of supporters gathering in Bucharest and several large cities across Romania on Thursday and Friday.

The government put the draft healthcare reform bill up for public debate in late December. It included a plan to attract private medical services and insurers into the system.

The bill drew criticism from healthcare experts who said it lacked details on how private firms would be regulated and for leaving too many details to be approved at a later date.

Romania has committed to reforming its indebted public healthcare system, which is funded from direct taxpayers' contributions but also requires additional funding from the state budget.

Basescu said state healthcare spending reached 24.3 billion lei ($7.10 billion) last year, from roughly 11 billion lei in 2005.

"Healthcare reform can continue under different forms, it is not ... tied to this law," Health Minister Ladislau Ridli told local television station Realitatea.

"There are dysfunctions in the medical system. We will find other solutions."

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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