GHS money sink row

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Three years after its historic launch, the foundations of the country’s General Healthcare System is shaky, as the government and opposition go head-to-head over allegations of waste.

Emotions boiled over at the House Finance Committee session when Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides told MPs that the GHS had become a money sink, causing the fury of the opposition.

It believes the government secretly desires the health system’s demise.

Petrides asserted that the GHS is on a trajectory to fail, blaming the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO) charged with running the system.

Petrides cited an actuarial study carried out by audit office Mercer, which calculated the GHS would cost each individual €1,200, and €2,200 for every employed person.

“But based on the budgeted expenses for this year, the per capita contribution of the system’s beneficiaries works out to an estimated €2,300 per individual and €4,400 per working person,” said Petrides.

The minister’s statements triggered the fury of the main opposition AKEL, with the party spokesperson George Loukaides who disputed the figures, accusing Petrides of “cooking the numbers”.

Loukaides argued that Petrides’ figures do not correspond to data provided by the European Commission.

He accused the Finance Minister of slashing €103 mln from the GHS budget while eyeing to cut another €50 mln.

“What the government is attempting here is an attack on the character and philosophy behind the GHS”, fired Loukaides.

HIO chairman Thomas Antoniou argued the figures tabled by Petrides includes millions of euros spent for referral of patients to non-GHS hospitals in Cyprus and other patient subsidies.

“The HIO cannot pay a single cent to a hospital that is not contracted, and besides, we cannot pay for expenses incurred for services which we are not aware of,” said Antoniou.

Weighing in, auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides cited various documented cases of abuses by doctors.

Michaelides cited a recent report prepared by his office, which found that a specialist doctor was compensated with €870,742 in 2020 for outpatient services, while 11 specialists had an income of over €500,000.

The earnings of one individual GP for children reached €421,283, while 67 specialist doctors had annual earnings over €300,000.

The General Auditor said he would send his office’s findings to the police for investigation into criminal offences.

Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela conceded that problems and abuses exist within the GHS.

He told MPs he would chair a meeting with all stakeholders next week to discuss these issues and take corrective steps.

“Should any violations of the law exist, it would be a matter for the police and the attorney-general,” said Hadjipantela.