Newly-appointed Minister of Health Baiba Rozentāle has told reporters that the public health care system in Latvia will run out of funds in early November unless the government allocates an additional LVL 90 million (around USD 180 million) to her ministry.
Rozentāle (of the People's Party/TP) immediately got into a row with Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (New Era/JL), who said that she had known of the funding for her ministry when she took the job, replacing her party colleague and predecessor, a doctor who resigned fearing that he could not deal with the cuts and restructuring demanded of the public health care system.
Rozentāle said she had been promised 3.4 % of GDP as a funding base for health care. In fact, the present budget offers only 2.89 % of GDP, a figure said to be the lowest among all member states of the European Union.
Soon after this controversy, the Pauls Stradiņš University Hospital, one of the leading health care providers in Latvia, announced that it was halting all state-funded elective surgery, including heart operations. Earlier, the government suspended funding for elective joint surgery or so-called endoprosthetic operations effective July 1. Cardiologists have warned that the suspension of elective heart surgery will lead to a surge of mortality in a country where heart disease is already a leading cause of death.
Rozentāle has generated controversy by suggesting that Latvia's health care system could sell surgical services to Sweden in order to shorten queues for elective operations paid for by the Swedish national health service. The idea, in isolation, was seen as good, but there was public outrage on internet forums that "ordinary" Swedes would be getting surgery in Latvian hospitals that was no longer available to ordinary Latvians.
Meanwhile Latvia's President Valdis Zatlers, a surgeon himself, criticized what he called "chaos" in Latvia's health care system. One can only agree.
The country is moving rapidly toward a pay-as-you-heal system, which actually is nothing new. Since Soviet times, when doctors were vastly underpaid, patients have routinely tipped surgeons and other specialists with "gifts" of scare goods (under the Soviets) or cash (in present-day Latvia). So a patient-financed health care system has existed in parallel to the publically financed (but now rapidly declining) medical care system for many years.