Row Over Medical Tariffs Keep Patients On Edge

Row Over Medical Tariffs  Keep Patients On EdgeRow Over Medical Tariffs  Keep Patients On Edge

Barely three weeks into the Iranian New Year the prospect of another rise in medical tariffs is hovering over the people’s heads. The planning and supervision deputy at the Medical Council said on Tuesday medical tariffs for the current year (March 2015-16) would rise by a massive 14.8% both in the public and a private sector which he said is below the inflation rate. Mohammad Jahangiri told ISNA details of the healthcare hike would be announced soon.

The hike shock comes after the tariffs nearly tripled in late October 2014. And the promises by lawmakers that medical bills would stay intact this year seems to have escaped the notice of medical officials. It was Abdorahhman Rostamian - a member of the Majlis Social Commission who said last month that since medical tariffs had been revised recently, ‘’it would not make sense’’ that another increase follows soon after.

Today (Wednesday) however, the head of the treatment supervision office at the ministry of health, weighed in on the issue saying that any hike in healthcare bills would be illegal. Mohammad Hussein Mirdehghan said in an interview with ISNA that the Medical Council ‘’has no authority’’ in authorizing a rise in tariffs. ‘’The final approval of medical tariffs in the current year will be decided by the government and will be announced within three weeks’’, he said. Until then, Mirdehghan added, there would be no price hikes in the key health sector.

  Tortuous Path

The ebb and flow of medical tariffs in the previous year was one for the scrapbook. On May 20 last year, the government agreed to a 44 percent rise in tariffs in the public sector and a 25- 32% hike in the private sector. But hardly 15 days had passed from the new jump that the milestone national Health Reform Plan was launched. Based on the plan which sought a major overhaul in health and medical care, patients had to pay only 10% of medical costs and the rest would be provided by the government.

The new measures in actuality rendered the previous ruling by the government null and void. In late September came the new Medical Tariff Codes. The Minister of Health Hassan Hashemi, made it clear in no uncertain terms that all doctors would have to abide by the new tariffs once they were inducted on November 6 that year. This marked the first ever clear-cut tariff rules introduced by the government after years of fuzzy and shady rules that had left many loopholes for medical corruption.

Welfare Minister Ali Rabeei also assured the public that the substantial rise in tariffs - that had been implemented reportedly to minimize medical corruption - would largely be covered by insurance companies and not the patients. The vicissitudes of medical tariffs were believed to have a near happy ending, of course up until recent news in the New Year took the public off guard.

  Bone of Contention

For years, the controversy over medical tariffs and their systemic increase has been a source of heated debate between people and those providing medical care. For most of its recent history, the ministry of health as the main policymaker in public health affairs has lobbied for hospitals, physicians, insurers and the Medical Council when it came to setting prices and tariffs.

The largely ignored parties in this dispute however, have been ordinary patients who will have to foot the visibly high and rising medical bills at the end of the day. No survey has so far sought the opinion of people to see if they can afford the prohibitive hospital bills or if they can survive the blow of another tariff hike this year.