There is a Hungarian saying, Legszebb öröm a káröröm, which can be roughly translated as "the best joy is someone else's misfortune." We know it as schadenfreude. I'll bet a lot of people who are not too fond of István Éger, president of the Hungarian Medical Assocation (Magyar Orvosi Kamara or MOK), are experiencing that joy. Éger, who served Fidesz well and expected to be rewarded, will most likely go up in flames.
I wrote about Éger back in 2007. In "The Hungarian Medical Association and its president" I gave a full account of his total rejection of the socialist-liberal government and the very substantial assistance MOK and physicians in general gave to Fidesz. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that with their attack on the Gyurcsány government's efforts to revamp Hungarian healthcare they put the final nail in the socialist-liberal coffin.
It is somewhat laughable to read on MOK's web page that the association is an "independent and democratic institution." Independent? First of all, how can it be independent when its activities are supervised by the Ministry of Health or whatever it is called nowadays. The Ministry decides its structure and its bylaws, even the president's pay. An association formed to defend the interests of a profession should be both established and run by its members, not some ministry.
A very brief history. In Hungary, following the German and Austrian models, the first nationwide medical association (Országos Orvosi Kamara = OOK), established in 1936, prescribed, again by government edict, compulsory membership for all practicing physicians. Because of OOK's checkered political history it was abolished in 1945.
In 1988 a new association, MOK, was formed which does not consider itself the legal successor to OOK. Again, membership was compulsory. This was the situation until 2006 when during the tenure of the liberal minister, Lajos Molnár, the law governing MOK was changed: doctors no longer had to belong to the association. The move was political. It was clear that the government wanted to weaken MOK. A surprising number of the members remained, most likely to demonstrate their opposition to the Gyurcsány government and to Molnár's reforms.
Ever since 2006 one of MOK's demands was to reintroduce compulsory membership. Sure, more members, more money. The other demand was equally important. They wanted to have the right to torpedo healthcare legislation not to their liking. Well, Orbán was ready to grant the demand for compulsory membership. After all, that cost him nothing. But giving real power to MOK was something else.
Doctors were not thrilled with the reintroduction of compulsory membership in MOK. Back in October one could read that some people were collecting signatures against compulsory membership and against István Éger, who forced the issue.
Meanwhile Éger was getting impatient with the new government's less than generous payment for services rendered. According to people who know him well, Éger was pretty sure that he would receive some high position in the government. A month before the elections there was a large Fidesz gathering at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences where Éger had an opportunity to speak with Viktor Orbán, but then nothing happened. So by January Éger announced that the doctors' patience and most importantly his had run out. The government is doing nothing and the new governmental structure hasn't served the interest of the profession. I assume that was also an indirect criticism of Miklós Szócska, undersecretary in charge of healthcare issues within the new superministry of national resources. He was especially outraged when at the end of December the new bill governing the activities of the healthcare associations became public.
The presidents of these associations, including Éger, complained bitterly that they had only limited opportunity to discuss the details of the bill with Szócska. The last time they were called together in the ministry was at the beginning of December, and the bill that was submitted had certain provisions that had never been discussed with them. It took Szócska only a few hours to respond and he didn't mince words. He practically accused Éger of ruining the chances for an agreement by insisting on very high membership fees. But it turned out that Éger wasn't just championing for higher fees from members. He insisted on a monthly salary of 2 million forints, while the government had fixed his salary at 750,000.
Today came the news that the prosecutor's office of districts VI and VII of Budapest is investigating MOK's financial affairs because Gyula Keszthelyi, a family doctor in Tard, complained that MOK didn't make public, as it is supposed to by law, certain information. For example, the current pay of István Éger. Once Szócska's office got hold of this news it also began an investigation. No one actually knows how much the president of MOK makes nowadays. In 2003 his salary was 810,000 forints and this figure caused quite a stir because his predecessor received only 45,000.
Éger is not very popular in professional circles either. One of the bylaws states that if someone doesn't pay dues for six months his or her membership elapses. Yet Éger sued those laggards and demanded past payment. Éger is planning to run again for the post, but it is unlikely that under these circumstances he will be reelected. Before his elevation to this post Éger was an ordinary family doctor in a small town and his fellow general practitioners were the ones who elevated him to his current position. Today, these GPs are the ones who will most likely dethrone him.
The government is also moving against him. The prosecutors, who normally proceed very slowly if at all, were quick to investigate his and MOK's finances. Éger was important when he was a useful tool. By now, he is an unwanted embarrassment. They will drop him and in no time he will be back in his modest practice somewhere in the countryside.