TALLINN - The Estonian Health Insurance Fund (EHIF) may have to face further cuts after a letter written by the finance minister to the minister of social affairs revealed that there has been far less tax revenue collected than expected, prompting the government to tighten the budget by an additional 25 million euros.
Finance Minister Ivari Padar said the reserves currently held by the government need to be saved for later and more difficult times.
"The government came to the decision that Estonian Health Insurance Fund can use only 800,000 euros from its reserves. Saved money should be kept, as social tax income estimations for the next year call for even greater caution," Padar said.
According to Urmas Sule, a member of the board of the Hospitals' Union, the proposals of the finance ministry are not workable.
"The health care service should not be played with, and those reserves that the Health Fund has collected, after hot discussions, should be now provided for its use. They should be used to extinguish the deficit of other ministries," Sule told the Estonian-language daily Postimees.
In the letter, Padar explained that income from the social tax has been much less than was expected. Due to this, the previous budget reduction was insufficient and now it is necessary to cut another 25 million euros, he said.
Some have said the cut was to be expected because of the skyrocketing unemployment rate, which has been rising by about 3,000 per week.
"Considering the importance of the situation it would be logical to conclude that having reserves amounting to about 260 million euros, the Health Fund would take the money from there as neither the fund's nor the hospital's managements are able to find other ways of reducing costs, especially as their budgets has been only recently finalized," a commentator who spoke on condition of anonymity said on the budgetary gaps.
"Rumors that Estonian Health Insurance Fund is going to lose quite a substantial amount has been on air for a while already, however, either due to the problems around pensions or considering it complete nonsense, no one has actually taken it seriously," the commentator said.
The foreshadowed cuts had been rumored following February's cuts to the EHIF budget to the tune of 40.8 million euros.
The consolation to the cuts is that during its best times EHIF was able to accumulate certain backup budget. When its budget was cut off in February, the Fund was hoping to take about 20 million euros from its savings reserve.
Since April 17, when Padar sent the letter to the Minister of Social Affairs, Hanno Pevkur, the two have been locked in argument over the issue.
It is feared that the infighting will lead to a drop in care for patients.
"While health care sector representatives try to explain to the government the consequences of such an unpopular decision, building its arguments will lead to the inaccessibility of the health care service for those who are the most in need," the commentator said.
Despite the cuts, EHIF members of the Board have received their yearly bonus, worth tens of thousands of euros.