Austrians brace for harsh health reform

The People’s Party (ÖVP) wants to drastically reduce Austria’s health sector spending.

ÖVP whip Karlheinz Kopf said yesterday (Thurs) he was currently trying to convince the Social Democrats’ (SPÖ) debt brake negotiators that there was a savings potential of 1.8 billion Euros until 2017. SPÖ Health Minister Alois Stöger remained tight-lipped regarding details of the discussion with ÖVP health sector experts but made clear that he had no idea how Kopf came up with this figure.

Stöger made aware of the ongoing health reform which should come into effect in 2014. The minister plans to raise clinics’ efficiency. The reform discussions between Stöger and health sector representatives are now overshadowed by the ÖVP’s call for harsher cost reductions. The conservative party – which formed a coalition with the SPÖ in 2007 – feels confirmed in its opinion by statements of the Audit Office (RH).

RH chief Josef Moser said earlier this month Austria would be well advised to slash its health sector expenditures in the coming years. The RH’s latest report – featuring 599 tips how to lower public service costs – stresses that Austria spent 59 per cent more on health concerns in 2009 than in 1998.

Moser made clear that the RH’s list of advice was not about brutal austerity measures but focused on various steps to increase the public sector’s efficiency. He said that hospitals could reduce their costs significantly by cooperating with other clinics situated nearby about cleaning and administration. Moser claimed that 7.5 million Euros could be saved a year. He added that the state’s spending on the police force would decline by 10 million Euros if officers were freed from managing office tasks and bureaucratic procedures.

Kopf did not comment on reports claiming that the government speaks about a possible increase of the value-added tax (VAT) on drugs. The tax burden on the purchase of medication by citizens was halved to 10 per cent only two years ago. The rate could be slightly increased to channel a few million Euros into the public budget, according to newspaper reports from yesterday.

A VAT increase on food, newspapers, magazines and theatre tickets is rumoured as well. The rate is 10 per cent at the moment while clothes and various other goods are charged with a VAT rate of 20 per cent. Economists have warned that a strong VAT hike could strangle the fragile growth of the domestic economy. SPÖ and ÖVP are allegedly considering an increase of just a few percentage figures, hoping that negative effects could be avoided this way. The government currently checks measures to immediately improve Austria’s financial situation since health sector spending cuts and various other reforms might have a long-term impact if at all.

Commentators accuse the coalition of having nothing but the next elections in mind. They claim that the current debt limit feud is the start of campaigning for the ballot of 2013. Johannes Voggenhuber, who had represented the Austrian Green Party in the European Parliament (EP) for 14 years until 2009, said yesterday the SPÖ might try to reschedule the next election date by around one year.

Voggenhuber told Die Presse he was convinced SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann planned to hold the next federal vote in autumn 2012 thanks to his party’s advantage over the ÖVP in polls. The SPÖ is seen around 28 per cent while the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) can expect the support of 27 per cent to 30 per cent of Austrians – around 10 per cent more than three years ago. The FPÖ claimed 17.5 per cent in the general election of 2008.

Research agency Karmasin sees the ÖVP at only 23 per cent while the Greens might win 15 per cent. Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger took over from Josef Pröll as ÖVP boss only last April. The conservative party did not feel a boost from the switch but slumped in polls instead.

The Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), which sensationally bagged 10.7 per cent in 2008, might not manage to remain in parliament. Only three per cent of Austrians would support the right-wing party founded by late FPÖ boss Jörg Haider these days. Four per cent are needed to win seats in the federal parliament.