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.

45 comments

  1. Apparently that means about 300 billion per year. The country is going down the drain and Orbán can think only of winning the next elections. But, in 2002 similar attempts failed.

  2. Campaign candy, yep, the real problem is that Fidesz will lose anyway, and we lost HUF 300bn++ (‘cos there will be many other items as well).

    I remember when István Stumpf, Péter Tölgyessy, along with other Fidesz-supporter pundits, were saying that MSZP – as opposed to Fidesz – has no real ideology, no symbolic politics, no offer for a political community (in a way all true) and therefore all they know is to spend and redistribute (osztogatás), effectively purchasing votes.

    I wonder what these people think these days.

    Wait, I know, the liberal-communist were also purchasing votes earlier, so Fidesz have the right too, plus the pensiors deserve some increase, it is justified socially, plus there would be no need to purchase votes, but for MSZP’ and the foreign governments’ unfair attacks on poor Fidesz. Plus the pensionser will spend it so it is good for the economy. Best idea.

    If the EU will let Fidesz, they will spend these hundred billions in a whim. It does not matter what will happen after mid-2014, because they will deal with it only when they get to it, but they only get to it if they win, and in order to do so, they have to spend a coupla hundred billion.

  3. wolfi :
    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 ?

    Except that the 13th-month pension will be paid not in cash but in ‘Elisabeth Card’ vouchers. Meaning that pensioners can spend their vouchers in Fidesz-friendly businesses and tax-payers’ money once again gets funnelled into certain pockets.

  4. 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

    Ah yes, but did you watch the Hungarian news report in which this was given? The reporter read the decision over the film of the stadium crowd ‘booing’ but nary an anti-semitic jibe was to be heard….slyly, of course, suggesting that the ruling was undeserved.

    Oh the devious Magyars!

  5. tappanch :
    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]

    I would change that ‘to Hungary’….but precisely correct.

  6. wolfi :
    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 ?

    But pensioners won’t get their 13th-month pension in cash. They’ll get it in ‘Erzsebet Card’ vouchers. Which are only redeemable in certain companies (presumably the ones Fidesz selects). So, in other words, more taxpayers’ money goes into the “right” pockets.

  7. Is this some way to make Hungarian unemployment disappear? If all these people are forced to retire, then they won’t be counted as part of the workforce.

    For the sake of argument, say there are 10 million people in the Hungarian workforce, and 8 million of them are employed. Change the rules so that only 8 million are in the workforce and 7 million of them are employed (since this change would eliminate some jobs). then the unemployment rate magically goes from 20% to 12.5%.

  8. London Calling!

    Of course he is massaging the employment figures – and conserving funds for the great election buy-off.

    Remember Matolcsy has to create another 1 million jobs by 2020 – that’s 125,000 per year – and they can’t all be ‘Keynesian employment’ burdening government spending – in a contracting economy. The only good news here from this aspect is Matolcsy might be the new Govenor of the NBH! Together with his ‘strategic’ alliance with the Central Bank – for this read “I want to get my mitts on the currency reserves” – then the fairytale is complete.

    They will use the reserves for the great 2014 electoral buy-off. Already Orban is bankrupting the Energy companies with the 10% cuts – and ensuring that no other companies will expand in Hungary. And will bankrupting Hungary’s own newly purchased EON too.

    Petrol prices will be lowered more – and this will hurt MOL.

    Then he will pay the teachers their promised pay rise (from the currency reserves), just in the nick of time, to garner their votes.

    There will be other promises too – watch this space. And as soon as the election is won – then watch the great clawback!

    So many debts to pay off – or roll over in a contracting economy – with no sustained measures for growth or reducing spending. Bonds. Bonds, Currency Bonds and more Bonds.

    There will me many many ‘budget redrafts’ as the economy lurches from crisis to crisis – inflation held steady only because no one is ‘consuming’ – and the economy contracting even more.

    There is already another big hole in the budget because Matolcsy has postponed the ‘spy-in the-till’ plans – so the expected – overestimated – projections will not materialise.

    So it will be interesting to see what Matolcsy dreams up next – because even though he is building a ‘Bank Team’ in anticipation of the Governor’s job – I don’t think even Orban will be barmy enough to appoint him.

    So – interesting times. How far can Orban bankrupt Hungary to buy off the voters?

    He will be increasingly beleaguered as his ‘U-turn’ quotient rockets – and he tries to placate different restless factions of society – piecemeal.

    Orban! The cracks are starting to appear! Your edifice is crumbling!

    Regards

    Charlie

    1. @ CharlieH. “…and he tries to placate different restless factions of society”. Which ones – except his cronies – do you mean? I can’t see any.

  9. @ Jean P. “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.”

    I agree with their assessment. Do you happen to have the exact source for this quote?

  10. Far from me to defend Orban, but even in the US it is frowned upon when a public employee takes advantage of the early retirement benefits public employees enjoy and then takes another PUBLIC job, thus milking the public cow twice. Also, some public employees, illegally, collect two incomes from the public payroll, once as employees, and once as consultants to their own departments; this is also illegal in most places.

    I just want to make sure that it is not this kind of dual job holding that is prohibited.

  11. tappanch :
    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]

    There is no ‘like’ button, so you have to imagine me pressing one.

  12. “giving a sense of social justice on behalf of those who are not double earners”

    There aren’t going to be too many of these – for a great many in Orbánisztán more than one job (whether legally declared or not) is a necessity.

  13. London Calling!

    Minusio I was painting a picture of impending chaos after he has won the election (“…he will be increasingly beleagured….”) – with too few funds to cover liabilities – as he lurches from policy to policy.

    And the realisation that he will have to introduce real austerity measures to curb public spending after the back-of-the-sofa money has gone too.

    The …”restless factions of society…..” are: the teachers; the students (those who remain); the pensioners; the medical profession; and the Roma et al.

    I believe the ‘restlessness’ is latent at the moment – people are just too scared to raise their heads above the parapet.

    I also believe that there will be a ‘National Collective Guilt’ – when the dust has finally settled when people realise that they have voted in their own protective selfish bubble (just for sheer survival) and now have to contemplate four more years (and counting) of the divided society that Orban promulgates. The ‘wallet’ vote will trump any idealistic intentions that the Hungarian voter may have for a better, fairer society.

    Whilst Eva shows a picture of the doctors and on a different but related topic – I believe the medical profession can weather the economy potentially better than the others. Why? Because of the wretched ‘gratitude money’ or ‘blackmail premium’ as I call it.

    There was an interesting item on the BBC recently about the method Greek Doctors use to supplement their income with the ‘blackmail premium’.

    In Greece they call it Fakalaki – which means ‘little envelope’!

    If you are suddenly hospitalised in Greece you are treated with shocking disregard – however seriously you need a doctor – until you produce the required Fakalaki. This is usually between Є200-Є400 – not unsubstantial sums. There is no option – you really do have to stump up the cash if you want/need treatment.

    The patients are fighting back – and there is a ‘Fakalaki’ blog where people can post their experiences – and Euro payments – thus shaming the profession. Some of the cases – if true- are truly shocking. (If there isn’t such a blog in Hungary already – then there should be? (Please advise!)).

    In addition the Tax inspectors are at it too. They ‘find’ a minor discrepancy – which could attract a large fine – and then ‘negotiate’ a cash sum to make the problem disappear. More Fakalaki!

    The government insists that this doesn’t happen and the posts are just people getting revenge on the tax authorities.

    Hungary = Greece?

    And if Matolcsy is the new governor the forint will go into meltdown.

    Regards

    Charlie

  14. Minusio :

    @ Jean P. “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.”

    I agree with their assessment. Do you happen to have the exact source for this quote?

    The quote is from me. The source 168 Óra

    http://www.168ora.hu/tudas/ez-veszelyezteti-magyar-tudomany-jovojet-108409.html

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