Colombia’s ongoing healthcare crisis threatens to imminently bankrupt the sector’s government watchdog that has been ordered to pay the hospital bills of liquidated health intermediaries.
A recent order by a Barranquilla court orders the criticized watchdog to immediately pay the $27 million to 36 hospitals, newspaper El Tiempo reported Wednesday.
Healthcare watchdog SNS failed to collect these debts from nine health intermediaries before liquidating them due to mismanagement and fraud.
The court order puts the watchdog in an immediate crisis as the ordered debt payment is equivalent to the agency’s annual budget.
Watchdog sues judges defending hospitals
SNS chief Fabio Aristizabal told El Tiempo that the ruling sets a precedent that could threaten other state entities that have failed to adequately monitor the private companies that have caused the hospitals’ financial crises because of widespread mismanagement and fraud.
The SNS called in the help of the Agency for the Judicial Defense of the State, the Inspector General’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office and filed a criminal lawsuit against one the judges that ordered the state entity to save the struggling hospitals, according to El Tiempo.
These developments are only the latest escalation of a crisis that has been getting worse for almost 25 years.
How did it get this far?
The current healthcare system that obligates citizens to register with a private intermediary, or EPS, was created in 1994 and has deteriorated the country’s healthcare system ever since.
While the EPS’s have been collecting these obligatory payments from citizens, many have squandered or embezzled this money instead of paying their clients’ hospital bills.
By 2013, more than 500 hospitals said to be on the verge of bankruptcy because of the EPS’ failures to pay their bills.
The government has been unable to push through reforms to resolve the crisis, in part because many members of Congress either have a stake in the companies or have had their campaigns financed by the EPS’s.
Meanwhile, hospitals are unable to pay personnel or equipment and patients are dying because they are left unattended.