Why this story matters:
The new year began in Romania with about half of its 10,000 family doctors refusing to renew their contracts with the national health insurance company.
According to representatives of the doctors' unions, medics are being shortchanged on funding for primary medical care and for expenses to maintain their practices. They're also being buried in bureaucracy that they say takes time away from their patients.
For about a week, doctors participating in the protest could not issue referrals to public specialist physicians or issue compensated prescriptions. But most saw patients for free and were able to write prescriptions for paid drugs.
But the doctors said they were threatened by national health authorities that they would lose the chance to ever renew their government contracts again if they didn't renew them in January. While many of the doctors relented and signed the contracts, others said their protest will continue "in other forms."
In Romania, family doctors function as independent contractors and are responsible for having enough patients to cover the costs of their practice. Over the last several years, many doctors have complained that the current set-up does not allow them to be financially viable, especially in rural areas.
According to the Romanian Association for Health Promotion, about 600 towns and villages were left without primary care in the last years.Romania lost 25 percent of its family doctors since 2001, and few medical students are choosing to enter family medicine.
Details from the story:
- The family doctors consider themselves in 'open conflict' with the national health authorities and asked for the support of Romania's president, Klaus Ioannis.
- They're ask for more money from the health budget to be spent on family medicine, for more money for maintaining their practices, and less bureaucracy.
- The two main associations of family doctors in Romania say their demands were ignored by the government and that authorities made "an unprecedented attempt to humiliate the doctors."
- Patients associations have expressed support for the doctors' protest, despite the inconvenience to patients, because family doctors are so important for the functioning of the health system.