Private investment in Hungarian hospitals: A case study

Those of us who don’t have experience in Hungarian style politics can’t even imagine what can go on at a council meeting. Anyone who wants to have a taste of this style of politics can listen to the proceedings during the vote on the fate of the Ferenc Markhot Hosital in Eger: Most commentators called the meeting "scandalous."

I was somewhat surprised a few weeks ago when I heard an experienced judge say that during the trial of a radical right-winger his sympathizers openly demonstrated in the courtroom and that he couldn’t send them out, couldn’t do anything. The behavior of those people who forced their way into the council meeting was ten times worse than the behavior in the courtroom and yet in this noisy Babel the members of the council had to vote on the fate of a deeply troubled hospital. Eventually, reason prevailed and it was decided that the hospital will be run by Hospinvest Zrt., which is already responsible for the operation of several other hospitals in the county. The other applicant was the Medical School of Debrecen, but the medical school didn’t have enough money for investments that the hospital badly needs. In addition, Hospinvest Zrt. promised to expand services and hence would keep all the employees while the Medical School of Debrecen proposed to begin its activities by letting 285 people go.

Now let’s move on to those who oppose the "sale" of the hospital. First of all, it is not the sale of the hospital per se but the right for at least twenty years to run the hospital, presumably in such a way that it would be financially advantageous to Hospinvest Zrt. About 200 people demonstrated against this proposal. Out of these 200 people about 20-25 forced their way into the meeting where their behavior was incredible. They brought along a live piglet, which they presented to the council. This piglet "handed" over a petition, which was actually a dumb little poem.

Now comes the interesting twist to the story. It turns out that these right-wing demonstrators are not against all privatization of hospital services. In several towns under Fidesz political influence hospitals were privatized without a peep. In Eger, Füzesabony, and Heves a private company won the bids to run the city hospitals. The company’s name is Agria Ügyelet Kft. The interesting turn of events is that one of the owners of this company is Dr. István Magyar who happens to be the head of the Fidesz in Eger and who is dead set against the privatization of this particular hospital. And if that weren’t enough, the City of Eger where the Fidesz is in majority not long ago entrusted the after-hour calls’ service to Agria Ügyelet. It seems that privatization is not such a bad thing if the right companies and the right people are the ones who are permitted to run the hospitals or medical services in general.

Although lately István Mikola, the doctor of the nation, doesn’t talk much about the subject, during his tenure as minister of health he also wanted to privatize. But how? By making certain well-heeled doctors the privatizers. Thus, it is not at all surprising that the Hungarian medical establishment is no partner to this government’s reform plans which are based on an entirely different concept. Outside capital, outside oversight over doctors and not vice versa. 

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John Hunyadi

It worries me when a right-of-centre political party consistently opposes privatisation – even to the extent of proposing renationalisation; it brings to my mind the corporatism of right-wing Latin American governments in the 1960s and 1970s. It worries me even more when the party has an inconsistent position on a specific set of privatisations!


Fidesz stopped being right-of-center a long time ago – now, they’re just a bunch of populist agitators with no real plans, except for that “the government is WRONG!” Seriously – how many “right-leaning” parties in Europe could oppose privatization and economic accountability? I bet Orban’s Fidesz is the only one who can do it with a straight face.
Similarly, the MSZP isn’t really a left-of-center social democratic party, but rather a pro-business, pro-EU neoliberalist party.
Personally, I think they should change their symbols to reflect this switch – perhaps MSZP could adopt a briefcase with a big Euro emblazoned on it as their new logo, and Fidesz could change theirs to an Arpad flag with Orban’s smiling face in the middle.