Instead of bolstering Colombia’s healthcare system in order to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals claim the government of President Ivan Duque is pushing them even closer to bankruptcy.
According to hospital association ACHC, the government did not just fail to cancel outstanding debts as promised in March, but ordered them to clear beds, which has deprived them of income.
The hospitals’ cry for help comes weeks after the Colombian Medical Federation (FMC) said it had lost confidence in Health Minister Fernando Ruiz who took office in January.
Ruiz’s “hospital expansion plan”
The hospitals’ rapidly growing financial woes are the consequence of the “hospital expansion plan” announced by Ruiz on April 2 in anticipation of a surge of coronavirus patients needing medical care.
In true Duque fashion, this plan sought no hospital expansion at all, but ordered hospitals to cancel treatments and free up existing capacity to prevent hospitals from exceeding their maximum capacity.
The lockdown that took force on March 25 prevented this surge, leaving hospitals on average half empty.
Nevertheless, the canceling of surgeries left operating rooms in the capital working at 70% while usually they are full.
Colombia’s hospital capacity
Source: Colombian Hospital Association
The financial pain and the financial gain
The problem is that the minister forgot that the public hospitals aren’t paid by the state, but by private health intermediaries who charge Colombians monthly, but pay hospitals for rendered services, if they pay at all.
Consequently, these intermediaries have been filling their coffers with compulsory healthcare payments while the hospitals have been going broke.
Thanks to Ruiz’s “expansion plan,” high-level hospitals in the capital Bogota alone have seen their income drop from $5 million to $3 million over the past month, according to weekly Semana.
The majority of surgeons, who are not on staff but get paid per surgery, lost 90% of their income, the weekly was told.
The minister may need an ear operation
The ACHC sent out an alert last week, about the government’s failure to cancel debts as promised, as well as the hospitals’ forcibly lost income, but without a response.
The FMC and the opposition have urged Duque to assume control over the healthcare system, but also without a response.
In the meantime, hospitals are considering firing personnel while they were supposed to be increasing their capacity to confront the coronavirus pandemic.
“If we do not receive government support, we will have to fire some of the staff who have a steady monthly contract,” said Daniel Parra of the Santa Sofia clinic in Buenaventura, the Pacific port city’s only high-level hospital.
While the government is trying to gradually restart the economy and claiming to be bolstering the country’s already fragile healthcare system, the hospitals claim they are racing towards default.