The Finnish government has acceded to the demands of experts and ruled special health care outside the scope of the service vouchers to be introduced as part of the social, health care and regional government reform.
The vouchers were initially proposed as a means to allow social and health care customers to choose a private service provider over a public one. The counties to be established as part of the regional government reform would have been obliged to provide the vouchers upon request from the customer.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on Wednesday announced, however, that the obligation will not extend to the field of special health care.
“A service voucher, however, has to be offered if a patient cannot access services provided by a county-operated utility within the time frame laid out in the treatment guarantee for special health care,” it stated in a press release.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health highlights that the binding nature of the vouchers in special health care was a particular concern for the 703 social and health care experts who commented on the reform bill this autumn.
“The regulations governing service vouchers will be clarified so that they do not jeopardise public special health care services and emergency services,” the press release reads.
The announcement was welcomed with delight by a number of social and health care experts, including Lasse Lehtonen, the administrative chief physician at the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS).
“Criticism has an impact. The government will expectedly fix sections concerning service vouchers in the freedom of choice proposal,” he tweeted on Wednesday.
Others, meanwhile, argued that the decision will effectively rule special health care outside the social and health care reform, thus ensuring that the reform neither addresses the problems in the field of special health care nor creates the savings targeted by the government.
“It’ll simply cement the situation we have under the current legislation. In other words, if you have long wait times for surgeries, the […] hospital will be required to provide treatment for people by paying for it,” Martti Kekomäki, a professor emeritus of health care administration and a member of the task force drafting the reform bill, commented to YLE.
The issue has also divided opinion within the ruling three-party coalition government.
The Centre Party repeatedly voiced its concern that the introduction of service vouchers would lead not only to the deterioration of special health care but also trigger a transfer of physicians from the public to private sector. The National Coalition, on the other hand, was eager to use the vouchers as a means to increase the market share of private service providers.
Paula Risikko (NCP), the Minister of the Interior, nevertheless described the outcome as “an excellent compromise” according to Helsingin Sanomat.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Martti Kainulainen – Lehtikuva
Source: Uusi Suomi