Colombia’s minister of finance defended the health care reform bill in front of the Constitutional Court on Thursday amid criticism from patients and advocates, reported local media.
Colombia’s Constitutional Court held a public hearing on Thursday to examine the statutory health care reform bill passed by congress last year.
Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas told the court that the state is aware that fiscal concerns are subordinate to the public’s fundamental right to health, reported El Tiempo newspaper. “The law’s criteria of fiscal sustainability is not meant to question fundamental rights to health care…but to give the state a reasonable time to comply with the [new] obligations,” Mauricio said.
Cardenas went on to state,”We believe that this law will not only provide easier access to services, but more clarity about what is included in benefit plans…we [will implement it] it in a consistent and harmonious manner with fiscal sustainability in Colombia.”
The Minister said that the new law allows the state to regulate market prices, and has already allowed the government to implement policies regarding medication, such as price controls. Cardenas added that it is necessary to make further advances to correct market distortions and improve the flow of resources in the health system, with the goal of ensuring the best social and economic utilization of health resources.
Cardenas’ comments came after the Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordóñez said that the State can not invoke fiscal sustainability to undermine health as a fundamental right, which should ensure universally and quality.
“Under no circumstances can any administrative, legislative or judicial authority invoke fiscal sustainability to undermine fundamental rights, restrict the scope or deny effective care… [and to insure that] health is a fundamental right , the State must rethink its funding policy,” said Ordoñez.
Ordoñez also insisted that the state should have “greater awareness and control” in order to avoid unanticipated costs of drugs, supplies, equipment, diagnostic, treatment and billing.
“Fiscal control policies are only viable when they help further the guarantee of efficient health care. What is not appropriate is to use measures to limit public spending [on health care], or to deny or limit access to health services,” Ordonez said.
During the meeting, representatives of high-cost patients disagreed with the content of the rule and asked that it be declared unconstitutional, citing articles that exclude coverage for experimental treatments, procedures, and medications.
The Court called on various officials in the health sector – including Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria, to hear their comments about the statutory law, before finally ruling it constitutional.
The Minister of Health insisted that “The law is clear in saying that health is a fundamental right, and that any time goods, services, and technologies are not provided, a writ of protection can be filed.”
A writ of protection is a document that can be filed by any citizen in protection of fundamental rights and which must be seen by a judge within 10 days .
Gaviria went on to say that the goal of the law is to eliminate the need for accessing goods and services through writs of protection– not the elimination of this recourse itself.
Colombia’s Congress passed the broad health reform bill last year at the urging of President Juan Manuel Santos. The bill’s detractors have repeatedly claimed the reform fails to address some of the most significant issues in the health care system, including the role played by the EPS intermediaries, which have been involved in large-scale embezzlement scandals and whose function will be maintained under the new statute.