BEIRUT: Caretaker Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani announced Thursday that the health care card bill is now with Parliament’s general assembly, urging protest organizers who have called for the law’s implementation to be patient and focus on “real problems.”
Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee on Nov. 5 endorsed the bill, which aims to create an electronic health care card for all Lebanese citizens and provide universal health coverage.
The legislation was then sent to Parliament’s secretariat for discussion before being passed on to the general assembly.
It’s not clear when the general assembly will meet for its next legislative session.
“The health care card bill is now with Parliament’s general assembly. So for those demanding that it [be passed], calling for protests, if you want to protest something, you should look at the causes of cancer,” such as the environment, smoking and dirty water, Hasbani said, “unless, that is, you’re working as part of an agenda to shift the attention away from real problems.”
A general strike is planned for Friday and activist groups have called for nationwide protests later in the month against deteriorating living conditions and the prolonged government formation process.
When similar protests were held in December, some demanded the implementation of the health care card bill.
According to the legislation, Lebanese citizens would receive an electronic card to enable health care providers to access their medical records and state the party responsible for covering each person’s health expenses.
In addition to creating the electronic card system, the draft law would provide coverage for uninsured citizens, as well as access to annual health checkups.
In a televised news conference, Hasbani also summarized the Health Ministry’s achievements from 2018, highlighting that there were no cases of patients dying after being refused admission to an emergency room for want of a financial deposit, unlike in previous years.
Hasbani said the ministry paid for 249,000 hospital admissions throughout the year, with waiting times to receive ministry approval for admission ranging from 24 hours to three days.
“This is a very low number compared with other countries where people can wait for months to have a surgery paid for by the ministry,” he said.
Over the course of the past year, the ministry adjusted the prices of 1,130 medicines, 46 percent of which were lowered, which comes after the ministry in November introduced new regulatory measures for drug pricing mechanisms.
Aimed at maintaining a balance between the costs of local and imported drugs, the new measures will see the ministry adjust the prices of imported drugs every three years instead of five.
“Upcoming steps [in 2019] will see the regulation of the prices of 3,400 medicines,” Hasbani said, adding that a total of about 5,000 medicines are present in the Lebanese market.
The ministry provided mediation for cancer and chronic diseases to more than 26,000 patients in 2018.
And across the total 230 primary health care centers in Lebanon, care was provided for 676,000 patients and shots were provided for 926,000 children, all for free or at “very low prices,” Hasbani said.
He called on anyone facing a health-related issue to report it to the ministry’s hotline, 1214. “We received 1,795 calls on our hotline in 2018, none of which reported emergency admission refusal,” he said.
The ministry also conducted 44,000 raids on food corporations in 2018, closing 245 of them and issuing warnings to 16,220 others, according to Hasbani.