I know that it is dangerous to predict, but I have the distinct feeling that the Hungarian health care reform is dead. At least it is dead in its present form, and perhaps its demise is not such a tragedy. Critics of the new system liked to call it a "mule of a system" that wouldn’t generate the much needed competition among healthcare providers. The socialists insisted on so many safeguards against "profiteering" that one wondered whether any capitalist in his right mind would put money into Hungarian health care. This was especially true since Viktor Orbán and his lieutenants kept repeating that if they come into power they will scrap the whole sytem, jeopardizing the investments of foreign participants. (And it would not be the first time they broke a contract with a foreign investor.) This was true from day one, but there is now a new threat: another referendum, this time against the whole health care reform bill. And I don’t think that this is an idle threat. Viktor Orbán is riding high at the moment, and he knows that he has the Constitutional Court in his pocket. The honorable judges will allow this referendum to be held. And why not? If they allowed referendum questions that were budgetary issues (and hence not appropriate items for a referendum) to sail through, a referendum on health care reform as a whole should be a cinch.
Rather than face the devastating consequences of yet another referendum, I believe that the government will simply stop health care reform. The real problem with such a decision is that there will be no infusion of much needed capital into the health care system. However, temporarily the government could compensate: for example, without much fanfare (though I’m sure with lots of demonstrations on the other side) they could close a few more hospitals. There could be a greater effort to collect money from the hitherto uninsured. They could start filtering out those hundreds of thousands who collect disability while working on the side. An incredible amount of money could be saved this way.
Meanwhile the government might be able to gain some time to figure out how to convince the Hungarian population that the good old times of goulash communism are gone, that the rhetoric of the Fidesz echoes the bad old times of the ’50s, and that the only way to prosper is to boldly move forward into the 21st century.