media punk

Latvian health-care has already been severely damaged by the budget cuts during the last couple years (implemented under IMF and other international lenders “kind” guidance). Now the new minister for health Ingrida Circene wants to give it one final blow. She wants to make the most vulnerable part of the population paying for health-care services that otherwise would be available “only for those who pay taxes in Latvia”

Today (31st of October) the United Nations Organization was cautiously celebrating the fact that the world population has reached 7 billion. The Executive Director of the UN Population Fund Babatunde Osotimehin reminded in this regard about challenges that await the whole humankind in promoting the rights and health of 7 billion women, men and children.

One of the biggest challenges in this regard appears to be simply stupidity of power.

Ingrida Circene with her “reform” proposal is a perfect example of it. What she proposes basically cooks down to the assumption that out of roughly 600 000 individuals who do not pay taxes in Latvia around half must be evading taxes or simply not working without registering as unemployed (this is of course not verified by any factual evidence — but who gives a damn, we are doing politics here, so to use a little bit of propaganda is just fine). From this Circene concludes that those individuals should pay full price for the health-care services which are otherwise fully or partly subsidized by state. Kind of logical and fair — because why should taxpayers cover expenses of those who “do not take part in the system”, as the minister argued in a recent radio interview.

And if somebody really does not have a job, well, then you just register as unemployed, and thus prove that you do not have any income for taxation.

This oversimplified view of Circene proves that she has no experience of the daily lives of thousands of Latvians, and thus she is ignorant — and “stupid” while exerting her power. Not stupid in a sense of lacking brains or having underdeveloped mental powers, but that the decisions that she might take are grounded not in reality but some mad bureaucratic dreams.

The reality of life for many unemployed Latvians is as follows. They have not had any job for a long time (very common in rural areas, where Circene apparently has not been so often), and all their unemployment benefits have been terminated. That is why they do not renew their registration as unemployed — they simply do not have the money to go to the nearest State Employment Agency office (yes, many of those are situated in bigger cities, and yes, you have to go there physically and sign papers in order to keep you status as unemployed). Now the state wants to punish them because there are no jobs by denying them access to health-care. And that is supposed to be fair!

Another group that would be targeted is housewives. Yes, we still have those in this country, it is more common than you might imagine, and we are again talking more about rural areas. Now, obviously the woman in this position has more work to do than many other women. Still, Circene wants them to either register as unemployed, or, as she claims, “if her husband is so rich that he can support a housewife” he can pay the minimal social tax for her (ca 200 lats or roughly 300 euros per year). This should make any person with even slightest inclination towards feminism outrageously mad. Instead of empowering women so that they really do get a fair chance in life and do not become dependent on their husbands, our minister for health wants to make women even more dependent on their husbands. You stay at home, raise the children and take care of the house — but if the man does not pay for you, forget about access to health-care.

One more group that would be directly targeted by the proposed reform is those Latvians who have emigrated to other countries, in most cases simply searching for jobs. Well, it is true that they often use Latvian health-care system when they happen to visit Latvia, while they have been paying taxes not here, but in a different country. At first it might seem fair to deny them equal access to health-care. But then again — many of them have contributed by paying taxes before leaving the country. Also, many of them do send money to their relatives and friends, which obviously helps Latvian economy in general. By denying them health-care service on the same terms as all other citizens we would just alienate them from their own country. Is that what we need today, when the population of Latvia is shrinking? In the end, it is basically about citizens being equals. If we deny them access to health-care, then in a similar fashion we could try to deny them the right to vote.

These were just a few examples. But the gray zone of different cases that do not fit in the dream world of the minister for health is surely big enough to raise concern. There are many reasons for tax evasion. But the underlying problem is lack of social capital; and social capital will certainly not increase simply by inventing of new methods to hunt down those who evade taxes.

Also, her suggestion that people should simply take some of those “thousands of jobs that are available” is simply intimidating. We all know that the number of officially (!) unemployed people by far exceeds the number of available jobs in Latvia. The minister also forgets that it is forbidden to force somebody to work according to the European Convention on Human Rights.

We should care about those in need and not leave them to their destiny. That’s what the state is for, that’s what at least partly taxes are paid for. I am personally paying more in taxes than I reasonably could use for my health-care. And I do want this money to be used for people who otherwise would not be able to pay for the medical treatments they need.

Finally — the last point which is quite important. Nobody in Latvia has questioned if and how the reform proposal is compatible with the currently freely available European Health Insurance Card. This card guarantees “the same access to public sector health care as nationals of the country you are visiting”. Would the reform proposed by Circene guarantee this access for the holders of this card, including Latvian citizens? The question is even more important since the implementation of this reform is planned to be covered by EU structural funds.

Will EU financially support reforms which will severely restrict important social rights of Latvian citizens with dubious aim (to increase tax revenue) and without any guarantees that this aim is feasible? Not to even mention about the needs of democratic society, about the rights of women, about the very basic ideas of equality…

The question is open. The answer is needed very soon, before the bureaucratic madness paired with the worst nightmares of neoliberalism becomes reality. Namely — that we will get a consciously created class society where some are getting excellent health-care while others are getting none. In the words of the minister for health, the state will care about those who are “in the system” — the rest can go to hell, since they will not be regarded as human beings. Welcome to the brave new world!

Didzis Melbiksis

Multilingual citizen. Europe, Sweden, media, politics.

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