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Austerity Efforts in Europe Putting Pressure on Health Services

Posted on Dec 21, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()

As financial concerns continue to affect the Eurozone, many countries have been forced to make efforts in reducing state spending which is leading to the cutting back of benefits, such as national healthcare programs. In the EU, countries ranging from the more powerful such as the UK and Germany, to countries such as Slovakia and Hungary are facing falling or stagnating budgets, in many cases as a result of the European debt crisis. Various countries have been impacted differently, with some managing to put of drastic changes to services with timely reforms and others seeing rising wait times for procedures. Slovakia and other ex-communist eastern European countries have been hard hit, with the pressure to cut costs keeping salaries low for doctors and medical professionals in the countries. This has resulted in brain drain over the long term, but more recently has lead to around 1,600 medical personnel resigning in Slovakia. While some doctors have agreed to return to work after the government offered a 40 percent raise in salary, many have not, and other doctors in nearby countries with similar problems may follow suit. Many Slovakians have been left without treatment, prompting the Czech Republic to send 30 army doctors in to assist, while Austrian and Polish hospitals are preparing to accept Slovakian patients. Countries like Germany or the UK face different problems to those faced in Slovakia, however budget cuts to established healthcare systems in these countries, coupled with shifting demographics are stretching these national healthcare systems thin. In 2010, Germany reformed its health insurance system, increasing the contributions for workers and their employers while also adding controls for the price of pharmaceuticals. This has worked to some degree, reducing the programs budget shortfalls, but as the population continues to age and the workforce shrinks as is being seen in many developed countries, the amount of money spent on drugs and outpatient care will continue to grow in the future. The UK National Health Service (NHS) is seeing cracks in the system as the result of budget reductions alongside growing health outlays. Lines for surgeries are increasing in length in the UK, while a growing number of NHS hospitals are in dire enough financial condition that they could be required to merge with other hospitals which may result in loss of services or reduced access to quality healthcare in some localities. Britain has previously experienced a rising uptake of private medical insurance plans when the NHS was not highly considered, due to people wanting to ensure they have access to quality medical care. However with unemployment in the UK reaching a 17 year high at 8.3 percent, people may have to consider whether paying for healthcare through private health insurance or out of pocket spending is more cost effective for them. Citizens or even resident expatriates in countries with developed healthcare systems and high quality medical facilities may find it easier to pay for treatment as needed, in some cases. Although there are many places and people in the world for which paying for private care out-of-pocket may work, in many instances it simply would not be appropriate. Paying your own way for hospitals treatments requires firstly that you have enough money saved up to pay for any treatments, and secondly that you are knowledgeable about the hospital and its capability in the required treatment. This is not always possibly, especially for expatriates or business people who travel frequently to numerous countries. Paying your own way also may not be a feasible option for expats located in places like Africa or elsewhere where the hospitals or medical facilities may not be of a high quality, necessitating a medical evacuation. This can be prohibitively expensive. Thankfully many international insurance providers have been paying attention to developing trends and many have been reevaluating their products and services in response. Insurance companies such as Medicare International and Allianz Worldwide Care are developing cost effective international health insurance payment plans and services, offering customers plans with high benefits and variable premium structures that can appeal to a wide range of international customers on a broad spectrum of budgets.
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