Colombia’s poorest 20 million people, almost half of the population, are at risk of being completely without health care in June because of a financial dispute between state health insurance companies and local municipalities, Caracol Radio reported Monday.
Health insurance companies (EPS) that deal with the subsidized system, the system that ensures the provision of health services to Colombia’s lowest economic stratas, are apparently owed over $550 million (COP1 trillion) from local municipalities.
The director of non-profit health management organization Gestar Salud, Eliza Torrenegra, said that although the government had already allocated $4.1 billion for the subsidized system, the mayors and municipal governments did not turn these funds over to the EPS.
“We are talking about debts dating back to March 2010, the mayors owe over COP200 billion [$110 million], we would be talking about debts of around COP900 billion [$495 million] owed to [state health insurance company] Caprecom and other EPS in the sector,” she said.
The main debtors are apparently small municipalities but there are also big cities such as the capital Bogota and Barranquilla, on the Caribbean coast, that are not far behind.
For their part, departmental authorities have said that some EPS do not fulfill their function, placing those in need at risk. Some have called for the forcible intervention of the Health Superintendent’s Office.
“The displaced people protected by special rulings today do not receive attention because they are compelled to join Caprecom,” said Carlos Mario Rivera, Antioquia‘s secretary of health.
The current economic crisis faced by Caprecom reflects the situation of the health sector in general, which is in turmoil after the uncovering of a massive health scandal affecting people from the slightly higher Colombian economic stratas who contribute to the national health plan through their employment.
If the subsidized system EPS cannot overcome their deficits, however, with June given as the deadline, then it is Colombia’s poorest people who will be without health care, say Gestar Salud.
“If this is not resolved…then we would be threatening the viability of not only the EPS but also hospitals across the country,” said a spokesperson.
The government has occasionally in the past given funds directly to the EPS and hospitals, rather than to the various departments, in order to avoid delays.