The Colombian government claimed on Tuesday that it has pumped $373 million into 300 of the country’s hospitals over the past year in an attempt to prevent bankruptcies due to a backlog in payments by corruption-infested health intermediaries.
Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria also announced the purchase of further debts owed to hospital personnel and providers this year that will allow the carrying out of scheduled surgery operations through November and December.
Colombia’s healthcare system depends on intermediary organizations that receive public funds and then secure healthcare for patients from hospitals and clinics.
Known as EPSs (Entidades Promotoras de Salud – Health promoting entities), these organizations have been consistently embroiled in corruption scandals and legal appeals for refusing to pay for services.
According to the World Health Organization, Colombia spent 6.8% of its GDP on health in 2012, more than Venezuela (4.6%) and in between the spending levels of Mexico (6.1%) and Argentina (8.5%).
However, Colombia’s health system has paid millions in double charges between 2006 and 2012 for medications already covered by the national health plan. EPSs charged high prices for the provision of medicines already paid for by the Compulsory Health Plan, according to studies by the Center for Development Projects (CENDEX).
The measures announced by the Minister of Health only postpone the crisis affecting hospitals, said hospitals, as the government fails to reform the dysfunctional health care system.
According to Luis Guillermo Saldarriaga, the administrative director of the Pablo Tobon hospital in Medellin, healthcare providers are always being asked to treat more people with the same amount of money.
The delays in payments by the EPSs are also threatening the financial survival of hospitals.
Since December last year, the money owed to and by the hospital “has been increasing and this is very dangerous. We are warning that the time in which accounts are paid by them [intermediaries] is increasingly long. Already it is more than 200 days. It is unsustainable for any organization.”