Liotard wins support of German minister in fight against liberalisation of health care

24 January 2007

Liotard wins support of German minister in fight against liberalisation of health care

SP Euro-MP Kartika Liotard received the support of German health minister Ulla Schmid for her angry response to attempts by a section of the European Parliament to make health care at European level subject to internal market rules. Last year, under great pressure from trade union, consumer organisations and other social movements, health care was excluded from the liberalising measures of the directive on services.

Kartika Liotard“To make health care in fact nevertheless subject to internal market rules via this back door is unacceptable,” said Ms Liotard. She was reacting to a proposal from Dutch liberal MEP Jules Maaten, of the right-wing VVD party, who was calling for just this measure. Ulla Schmid, currently chair of the Council of EU health ministers, spoke out in her support, saying that the Health Council “was delighted by the exclusion from the services directive” and that ministers were now “of the opinion that the way in which policy relating to health care is conducted must remain a national responsibility and a national choice.”

In the Netherlands itself there has also been a strong reaction to the current proposal. In a letter from the standing committee of the national parliament, dated 8th January, attention is drawn to the growing and undesirable influence exercised by Europe on national systems of health care. The parliamentary committee expressed the view that the Dutch government should commit itself to ensuring that health care remains exclusively under national competence.

Liotard sees it as extraordinary that the European Parliament is seeking to take a decision before the closure of the European Commission’s consultation period on 31 January. Yet the consultation process is supposed to give both member states and interested organisations the chance to have their views heard. “Obviously there is a section of the European Parliament which has already made up its mind and wants to go ahead with this liberalisation of health care at all costs.”

In Liotard’s opinion health care services should be explicitly excluded from the services directive, rather than by default, as is now the case. “Health care is a matter of the public interest,” she argues. “If we are talking about health care then the welfare of the patient must be our starting point, and not the interests of the market. Responsibility for providing accessible and high-quality care lies with the member states, which must be in a position to make their own choices over what sort of systems they establish.”

In the framework of patient mobility, Liotard accepts that what the patient wants must be prime. “Regulations aimed at improving patient mobility must never lead to the patient’s being in a situation where he or she must travel a long way from home to undergo a routine medical intervention because it’s cheaper, or because market principles dictate that it is only available in certain parts of Europe. Free movement of health care services could under present conditions lead to an outflow of well-qualified staff from the new member states, at precisely the time when it is so necessary for them to keep such people in order to build a high quality system.”

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