HEALTHCARE TO COUNT ON LEAVINGS FROM BRUSSELS
None of Bulgarian experts' six operating programs for absorption of money from the structural funds of the European Union (EU) points out healthcare as a priority. Some of them mention it, indeed, but say nothing specific. And that is quite unpleasant, considering the condition of the Bulgarian healthcare sector. In Poland, this sphere is a priority for the period 2007-2013 and will rely on some EUR1.5BN from the European Social Fund. Bulgaria, according to the Deputy Minister of Healthcare Dr. Valeri Tsekov, may be launched EUR500MN-EUR600MN from the European funds in the next seven years. But even these reckons are made without the host.
The Ministry of Healthcare is now proposing that the Human Resources Development program contain a separate section called Working ability through better health. It should stress on concrete measures and actions: for prevention and early diagnosis of diseases of social importance; for optimisation of the urgent medical aid; modernization of the material base of the medical institutions, and so on. The Ministry proposes new measures in three more operating programs: Rural Areas Development, Environment, Administrative Capacity. However, nobody wants to defend such changes.
Healthcare figures in all spheres and cannot be separated as a priority in one program, said Lyubomir Datsov, Deputy Minister of Finance. He added that it was too late for the documents to be rewritten. Still, the operating programs contain a sufficient number of measures related to this sector and it is more important to have ready projects to compete for financing. In turn, Iskra Mihailova - Deputy Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, noted that past programs for territorial and cross-border cooperation offered opportunities for financing social infrastructure, but no healthcare projects were ever proposed.
The International Healthcare and Health Insurance Institute is among the few organizations that profited by the Public Healthcare Program (2003-2008) through competitions directly in Brussels. This European program for potential Bulgarian participants was blocked by the Healthcare Ministry in May 2003. The Ministry was late to sign the agreement allowing the state to participate and delayed the payment of the state installment, which did not allow that projects be prepared and money from the European Union be absorbed in favour of the healthcare, Dr. Ilko Semerdzhiev, Head of the Institute and former minister of healthcare, explained to the BANKER weekly. The European Union put the health sector among the priorities, but Bulgaria goes in quite an opposite direction, Dr. Semerdzhiev commented. One of the main reasons why Bulgarian healthcare is not let to the large financial resources is the fact that it has not been reformed and the institutions do not believe it is able to spend the money rationally.
We should neither forget that each project that applies for European money must be guaranteed with respective co-financing by the Bulgarian State. This is a task difficult to realize, considering the scarce funds the State has been allocating for healthcare in the past years (4.2-4.4% of GDP) and the unenviable financial status of the municipalities. If Bulgaria has no national co-financing schemes, it cannot absorb the European funds, the MP Dr. Hassan Ademov said.
The EU structural funds financial framework for 2007-2013 will be approved by the European Parliament on May 19. According to the Deputy Healthcare Minister Valeri Tsekov, it provides great opportunities for investing directly in healthcare - for modernization of the medical infrastructure, technical aid, investments in medical and laboratory equipment... Great opportunities - that's for sure, but will Bulgaria profit by them, too?
Eventually, the Bulgarian authorities missed the chance to define the health sector a key priority. Now the Bulgarian healthcare has nothing else to do but enjoy what remained from the measures for healthcare improvements. It's good that they exist in the operating programs... On paper at least.