What will happen to Hungarian health care?

More and more people are convinced that Viktor Orbán has lost his sense of reality and as a result is making decisions that may have grave consequences for the country and even his own party’s popularity.

Just lately he underestimated student reaction to his hasty introduction of tuition fees and the lowering of the number of scholarships available. He insisted to the very end on the introduction of voter registration, although surely many people must have warned him that it might have serious international consequences.

His latest foray into unreality is the decision that public employees who due to their age are entitled to receive pensions must be discharged from their jobs beginning on January 31, continuously as the law specifies. This law affects a lot of people,  including all employees of elementary and middle schools, medical personnel, judges, prosecutors, and members of the armed forces. The only exceptions are college instructors and researchers employed by state financed colleges and universities. Anyone who wants to contest this ruling must make a request in writing; from the wording of the law that was published in Magyar Közlöny (no. 184; December 29, 2012) it sounds as if individual exceptions will be hard to come by.

Actually, the bill proposing this legislation was already voted on by the Hungarian Parliament on December 17, but it went pretty well unnoticed until Viktor Orbán met the so-called Council of Elderly Affairs. At the time I read the newspaper articles on this meeting, but most of the reporters concentrated on some silly expressions of Orbán, according to whom the Hungarian economy is like a wasp that has a big abdomen yet still can fly and, mixing metaphors, like a live fish that can swim upstream and the dead one that goes with the current. The articles said little about how Orbán replied to a question about the dire situation that might result from this decision in the medical profession.

The question came from Dr. László Iván (age 80), a Fidesz member of parliament who seems to be extremely fit both physically and mentally. Mind you, he doesn’t have to worry about the new law because politicians are exempt. We learned, for example, that Sándor Pintér, who was a policeman before he became a politician and who retired from the police force at the age of 48, now receives 150,000 forints in addition to the millions he makes as a minister. Today, thanks to new Orbán governmental policy, policemen and soldiers cannot retire early.

László Iván, a doctor and a university professor, was particularly interested in the medical profession. It is a well known fact that there is a serious shortage of physicians and that many practicing doctors are over the retirement age. He asked Orbán to extend the compulsory retirement age to 70 for doctors. Orbán eventually met Iván “halfway.” Doctors will still have to ask permission from the government to stay until the age of 70. They will not, however, be able to draw both their salaries and their pensions. He promised to raise their salaries to compensate for their financial loss. (Would they really be so naive as to believe this promise?)

I noted earlier that college teachers and researchers employed in institutes of higher learning are exempt, but it is not at all clear whether research institutes financed by the state directly or indirectly but not attached to a university are exempt. The Union of  Scientists and Innovators interpreted the law as applicable to, for example, research institutes attached to the Academy of Sciences. They considered the decapitation of the research institutes to be the death of Hungarian science. Can you imagine scientists and researchers being kicked out of their labs at the age of 62 and being forced to sit with their grandchildren on a bench on the playground? Lunacy!

The various medical organizations frantically ran to the undersecretary in charge of health care, Miklós Szócska, but he wasn’t moved. He announced that any fear of the collapse of Hungarian health care is baseless. “There is no danger to the functioning of  the public health system.” (Three years ago Szócska was the hope of the medical establishment, but since then physicians came to realize that their hope in Szócska and in Orbán was misplaced.) At the meeting everybody asked for a blanket exemption from the regulation for the entire medical profession. Orbán refused to budge. They will have to make individual requests, and by the grace of Viktor Orbán perhaps they can stay.

So, by January 31, up to 15,000 requests will have to be processed. The situation currently is as follows. There are 35,000 practicing physicians and a quarter of them have already passed retirement age while another 42% will have to retire within ten years. In addition, about 3,500 nurses will have to retire unless there is some kind of resolution to this impasse. Perhaps the physicians will gather their courage and, learning from the activism of the students, express their dissatisfaction in some more forceful way. One must add that last year almost 1,000 younger doctors left Hungary and 1,600 physicians and nurses indicated their desire to work abroad.

Young doctors on the move

Young doctors on the move

The situation is a bit better in elementary and high schools, but even there 7,000 people will have to be discharged. In certain schools it might cause problems. I heard of a school where about half of the teaching staff is over 62. But at least here there is the hope that they will be required to leave only at the end of the school year.

All this doesn’t seem to phase Viktor Orbán. Alas, when everything depends on one man who can act without restraint this is what happens.

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Minusio
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Minusio
January 8, 2013 6:54 pm

Subjectively speaking, for most people the total lack of clarity and the uncertainty accompanying it are the worst. Someone like my girlfriend who receives a pension, teaches at a university and works as an editor for a quarterly of one of the institutes at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences it is impossible to make any decision.

She decided to just going about her jobs (her courses at the university are already advertised, the work for the next three issues of the quarterly is rolling) as long as the money comes in. If she will be forced to take a decision, she will grab her pension and drop everything else. But who will continue to teach her special doctoral course? Who will continue the editorship of a peer-reviewed quarterly journal that takes a huge network of lectors and other specialists?

Sheer lunacy.

Member
Some1
January 8, 2013 9:32 pm

As far as Orban concerned, I would like to remind everyone that the membership in Fidesz (Alliance of Young Democrats) had an upper age limit of 35 years. THis was the party Orban launched in 1988 when he was about 26 years old. As Orban reached 31, in 1993Fidesz abolished the 35 years age limit, a year before the 1994 elections. After loosing the election the once liberal Fidesz (that just joined the Liberal International in 1992) changed its political position from Liberal to Conservative. It only took a lost election for once atheist Orban to discover God, turn from liberal to conservative. The hope to stay in power made the party to established for the young to be run by fifty years old man.
They did not retire themselves, and they will always find a way to except themselves from the “commoners”. Fortunately, more and more people are waking up…

tears tears tears
Guest
tears tears tears
January 8, 2013 9:42 pm

Some1: “They did not retire themselves, and they will always find a way to except themselves from the “commoners”.”

I agree with Some1.

Orban has been similar to the Stalinists or to the Iranian Ayatollahs. All tricks will be used to hold to the power.

oneill
Guest
oneill
January 9, 2013 1:38 am

Completely OTT but readers may find it interesting that Hungarian anti-semitism is punished correctly sometimes, just by authorities outside the country. FIFA has ordered Hungary to play their next match behind closed doors due to the racism displayed by Hungarian right-wingers at the Israel game last year-
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/20951156

Guest
January 9, 2013 2:41 am

“The Union of Scientists and Innovators interpreted the law as applicable to, for example, research institutes attached to the Academy of Sciences. They considered the decapitation of the research institutes to be the death of Hungarian science.”

Did the Hungarian Academy of Sciences protest?

Bowen
Guest
Bowen
January 9, 2013 3:54 am

oneill :
Completely OTT but readers may find it interesting that Hungarian anti-semitism is punished correctly sometimes, just by authorities outside the country. FIFA has ordered Hungary to play their next match behind closed doors due to the racism displayed by Hungarian right-wingers at the Israel game last year-
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/20951156

Yes, but surprise surprise. Instead of accepting the decision, and confirming that racism is bad and unallowable, the Hungarian Football Association is appealing against FIFA’s decision, calling it “unfair”.

http://zeenews.india.com/sports/football/hungary-to-appeal-against-fifa-sanction-for-racial-slur_754826.html

GW
Guest
GW
January 9, 2013 5:04 am

I suspect that one great emerging theme in Hungarian will be resentment between generations, in particular between the younger Hungarians — who were not beneficiaries of housing privatization, who will have to pay for their own higher education (possibly with restricted emigration possibilities), and will have to support an ever-larger retired population — and the middle aged beneficiaries of the Orban system. As well, the forced retirements (what a waste of valuable human capital and demographic idiocy!) and continued weakening of the pension system have placed the impoverished elderly on a conflict course with both groups. It would be ironic, indeed, if the ultimately undoing of Fidesz comes at the hands of actual young democrats!

Jano
Guest
Jano
January 9, 2013 5:42 am

oneill :
Completely OTT but readers may find it interesting that Hungarian anti-semitism is punished correctly sometimes, just by authorities outside the country. FIFA has ordered Hungary to play their next match behind closed doors due to the racism displayed by Hungarian right-wingers at the Israel game last year-
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/20951156

The game against the Israelis took place on Aug 19. I’m puzzled why this punishment didn’t come immediately and why FIFA waited so much time. I don’t claim to know how FIFA works, but what I gather, it’s not exactly a democratic institution either, (I don’t even know what country’s jurisdiction they fall under). I have a gut feeling that this is no accident and the anit-semitic incident might have come handy for a few people (e.g. the Romanian football-diplomacy). I’m not saying at all that the verdict is not well deserved (because it is), but the implementation is suspicious to me.

anti-hypocrite
Guest
anti-hypocrite
January 9, 2013 5:51 am
Why is there no reference in this post to the fact that Orbán has been bemoaning the low percentage of the population in the work force? This move, forced retirement on a grand scale, will probably do more to lower that percentage than any other single thing, and, if continued for the next twenty years, will probably outpace any efforts to increase that percentage, meaning that the net result of all of his efforts will be an overall decrease in the percentage of the population that is gainfully employed (the population that remains in the country, anyway). If there is an uptick in the workforce, percentage-wise, it will be because so many young people have moved abroad to work, perhaps never to return, thereby shrinking the overall population even further. I know from personal experience that Orbán’s moves to limit university spots and force graduates to stay in the country have convinced many ambitious Hungarian teens to apply to universities outside of Hungary, in countries where tuition is free for all EU citizens. Lucky for them, Hungarian gymnasiums require all students to have proficiency in either German or English, and Vienna is still close enough to easily come home for… Read more »
LwiiH
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LwiiH
January 9, 2013 5:55 am
Hamham
Guest
Hamham
January 9, 2013 6:07 am

Orban’s reason is to give positions to the middle generation.

Fidesz’s generation, the personal friends of the party leaders, which is now in their late forties, early fifties has always felt left behind compared to the older generation professionals, whether they be judges, doctors, teachers.

It is Fidesz’s policy to take over their positions, both because of politics (they dont trust the supposedly communists, which is of course loughable as most doctors and trachers as well as judges are very conservative politically) and for simply carrier, material gains.

Fidesz recons – unfortunetyl correctly – that these new people in the senior positions will be loyal to Fidesz, which is partly true because Fidesz’ party comissars will decide about the replacements — as thes institutions where doctors etc. work are all state owned and managed, and already all top decision maker positions are held by strict and trustworthy Fidesz hardliners.

And of course the left is (any new opposition will be) always much worse in putting party people into poistions. Party loyalty, sensibility to political relaibility issues, and startegic long term thinking is always a property of the right.

nyaripal
Guest
nyaripal
January 9, 2013 6:49 am

OT, but related – I’ve only just discovered that another of Orbán’s bright ideas was apparently to not allow people to have two jobs. Is this right?

We were talking to our neighbours in Debrecen last night and they are in dire straights because the wife has just been made redundant (she was a primary school teacher, so this struck me as odd) and the husband, who is a retired policeman (although only in his 40s) is having to give up his job because he has a police pension. Their income has been cut in half overnight.

Is this ‘two jobs’ thing the same madness that Éva is writing about (his pension is a public one, but his other job wasn’t), or is it a separate piece of lunacy?

nyaripal
Guest
nyaripal
January 9, 2013 6:59 am

LwiiH :
SOT: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/01/the-hungarian-crackdown.html

Thanks for this link, LwiiH, intersting (and depressing) read.

nyaripal
Guest
nyaripal
January 9, 2013 7:01 am

Eva S. Balogh :

nyaripal :
Is this ‘two jobs’ thing the same madness that Éva is writing about (his pension is a public one, but his other job wasn’t), or is it a separate piece of lunacy?

Yes, It is the same we are talking about here.

So, if you’ve got a state pension, even if you are still of pre-retirement age, you can’t take ANY other work?

This seems even madder than even the normal Orbán madness. What on earth does he hope to gain from this? It surely can’t be just to reward his 30/40/50 something hard-core support with senior positions? Even he must seen the short-term craziness of that.

Hamham
Guest
Hamham
January 9, 2013 7:16 am

Yes, numerically true, but people will advance within in the organisation and that is what is important.

Bowen
Guest
Bowen
January 9, 2013 7:25 am

nyaripal :OT, but related – I’ve only just discovered that another of Orbán’s bright ideas was apparently to not allow people to have two jobs. Is this right?
We were talking to our neighbours in Debrecen last night and they are in dire straights because the wife has just been made redundant (she was a primary school teacher, so this struck me as odd) and the husband, who is a retired policeman (although only in his 40s) is having to give up his job because he has a police pension. Their income has been cut in half overnight.
Is this ‘two jobs’ thing the same madness that Éva is writing about (his pension is a public one, but his other job wasn’t), or is it a separate piece of lunacy?

What??? Apart from anything else, two jobs = more taxes to the state. People can work as much as they ‘want’ surely? Rather than as much as the state dictates? Oh well, if my wife has to stop doing the three jobs she currently does, then I guess she’ll pay less taxes, and we’ll spend less in the shops. Never mind. We can always try keeping pigs and chickens on the balcony.

Jano
Guest
Jano
January 9, 2013 7:26 am

Eva S. Balogh :

nyaripal :
Is this ‘two jobs’ thing the same madness that Éva is writing about (his pension is a public one, but his other job wasn’t), or is it a separate piece of lunacy?

Yes, It is the same we are talking about here.

He who is always so proud how much he knows the special Hungarian soul wouldn’t realize how big of a step this is back towards illegal employment and in the pocket salaries?

Jano
Guest
Jano
January 9, 2013 7:26 am

I mean OV of course

Ron
Guest
Ron
January 9, 2013 8:33 am
Bowen : nyaripal :OT, but related – I’ve only just discovered that another of Orbán’s bright ideas was apparently to not allow people to have two jobs. Is this right? We were talking to our neighbours in Debrecen last night and they are in dire straights because the wife has just been made redundant (she was a primary school teacher, so this struck me as odd) and the husband, who is a retired policeman (although only in his 40s) is having to give up his job because he has a police pension. Their income has been cut in half overnight. Is this ‘two jobs’ thing the same madness that Éva is writing about (his pension is a public one, but his other job wasn’t), or is it a separate piece of lunacy? What??? Apart from anything else, two jobs = more taxes to the state. People can work as much as they ‘want’ surely? Rather than as much as the state dictates? Oh well, if my wife has to stop doing the three jobs she currently does, then I guess she’ll pay less taxes, and we’ll spend less in the shops. Never mind. We can always try keeping pigs and… Read more »
nyaripal
Guest
nyaripal
January 9, 2013 8:36 am

“this is back towards illegal employment and in the pocket salaries”

and no tax income.

Jano
Guest
Jano
January 9, 2013 9:46 am

nyaripal: “and no tax income”

Exactly.. What the hell is motive behind this? I usually can guess why certain measures good for at least a group of people, but now I’m totally puzzled on this one. Is it possible that they are stupid enough to think that they can battle unemployment this way by freeing up jobs??

tappanch
Guest
tappanch
January 9, 2013 10:09 am

I can explain in one word what the Orban government is doing in Hungary:

Destroika

[I invented this word from the “perestroika” which finally destroyed the Soviet Union]

Minusio
Guest
Minusio
January 9, 2013 10:11 am

My Hungarian girlfriend and I thought about what the motivation for that lunatic measure could be, and we came up with the following:

– saving money for the ailing budget
– creating new jobs for younger people (to improve the employment statistics)
– giving a sense of social justice on behalf of those who are not double earners
– eliminating possible opponents amongst teachers, etc.

After having read all the comments so far, I strongly believe that Orbán is plainly running out of money, and what he loses in taxes is more than compensated for by what he saves in paying salaries. And damn the consequences.

tappanch
Guest
tappanch
January 9, 2013 10:35 am

Kover’s armed guards took over even the website of the Hungarian Parliament:

http://www.parlament.hu

Does this mean that we cannot read the drafts and bills in the future?

Guest
January 9, 2013 10:37 am

“creating new jobs for younger people” – but especially in health care there are not enough younger people to take over!

My wife just told me she’s so glad we don’t have to go to a urologist. Her friends tell her the only one available here is around 70 years old – not really acquainted with modern developments. He’d like to retire – but his patients ask him to stay …

Sure, there are private practices – but which pensioner can pay those ?

I’m so glad that I’m in the German health system – and if anything serious happened to my wife I’d take her to Germany as fast as possible …

PS:

It’s not as bad as this with every specialty, I found a good eye specialist in the local clinic – but we were really lucky there!

Guest
January 9, 2013 10:45 am

From portfolio.hu:

“In a bid to beef up support by the sizeable retired population Hungary’s government is considering the re-introduction of a 13th-month pension, local news portal index.hu learned on Wednesday. It said the State Treasury has already started background calculations on the feasibility and potential impacts. If timed right the measure, which had been implemented under the Socialist regime and abolished in 2009, could be a real campaign candy for the ruling Fidesz party.”

Ain’t that sweet ?

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