The lower house of Parliament is debating a package of health reform bills which will radically change the system of health care. The planned overhaul includes the introduction of standard and above standard care for patients, higher fees for hospital stays and changes to the network of healthcare providers and emergency aid services. The changes are to be introduced gradually in a phased-out process.
The government’s health reform plans have come under severe criticism from the opposition Social Democrats who say they will file a complaint against them at the Constitutional Court. Party chairman Bohuslav Sobotka said during debate in the lower house that it was unacceptable to implement changes which would establish a two-tier system which would result in the socially weaker groups of the population getting cheaper, less suitable and less effective treatment.
Some 600 people took to the streets of Prague to protest against the planned changes on Tuesday. The happening organized by the country’s trade unions involved street pantomime to show what health care would look like if the reforms were implemented. Health Minister Leoš Heger who attempted to explain the planned changes was showered with insults and calls for his demise. Trade unions have not ruled out more massive protests in the coming months, and are not ruling out the possibility of a general strike.
The junior coalition party Public Affairs has elected Vít Bárta the party’s parliamentary club leader. Mr. Bárta widely regarded as the party’s informal leader, resigned as transport minister earlier this year over allegations of corruption. Under pressure from the party’s coalition partners he was sidelined from all important party and government posts. Parliament’s mandate and immunity committee is currently debating whether he should be stripped of his parliamentary immunity to open the way for a police investigation. Public Affairs deputies elected Mr. Bárta by a strong majority, saying that the attacks against him were an orchestrated smear campaign against the junior coalition party which is pushing a strong anti-corruption agenda. Vít Bárta will replace Karolina Peak who was recently appointed deputy prime minister and is to head the government’s legislative council.
Interior Minister Jan Kubice and police president Petr Lessy have agreed to put a ceiling on performance bonuses for police chiefs. According to Tuesday’s Lidové Noviny the police president will in future collect a maximum of 300,000 crowns in annual bonuses, while bonuses for heads of regional divisions should not exceed 200,000 crowns a year. The decision follows a scandal linked to revelations that former interior ministers handed out generous bonuses exceeding millions of crowns to their deputies and regional police chiefs.
The Green Party has slammed President Klaus for alleged favouritism in granting a pardon to a former member of the Civic Democratic Party. The president issued eight pardons on humanitarian grounds on Monday, among them a pardon for a doctor serving a seven year sentence for issuing fake certificates of illness which cost insurers over 10 million crowns. The Greens point out that the doctor was formerly an active member of the Brno branch of the Civic Democratic Party which Mr. Klaus founded and accuse the president of bias. The President’s Office has sharply rejected the accusations, saying that all pardons were granted strictly on humanitarian grounds – such as ill health and advanced age.
Four people have been arrested on suspicion of having firebombed the home of a Roma family in Central Bohemia on Monday. Police say that the group had been walking around the village of Býchory in the early hours of Monday and calling out racist slogans, before one of them threw a lit torch into the occupied house. The residents were able to extinguish the fire without injury. The suspects, aged 20 to 25, were detained later in the day and are being investigated for attempted grievous bodily harm; should a racial motive be determined they will face up to 12 years’ imprisonment.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic is down to its lowest level in two years, at 8.1 percent in June, according to figures released by the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry on Tuesday. Down from 8,2 percent in May, the unemployment rate has dropped for five consecutive months. The number of job vacancies grew to over 38 thousand with 12 applicants on average per vacancy. In Prague the unemployment rate has remained unchanged at 3,9 percent, the lowest in the country.
Czech consumer price growth slowed to 1.8 percent year-on-year in June, down from 2 percent in May, the Czech Statistical Office said Tuesday. Month-on-month prices dropped by 0,2 percent mainly owing to a fall in the prices of food and non-alcoholic drinks. On the other hand, the price of services increased by 0,2 percent and the prices of spirits rose by 3.1 percent.
Left wing parties are still enjoying broad public support, the results of a public opinion poll conducted by the SANEP agency show. The government’s flagging support in the wake of a corruption scandal and the introduction of painful reforms has boosted the position of the Social Democrats who would now win general elections with an estimated 34,5 percent of the vote. The centre right Civic Democrats would get a mere 17,8 percent, TOP 09 would get 16,3 percent and the Communist Party would get approximately 14 percent. The only other party which would stand a chance of winning seats in the lower house are the Christian Democrats who were sidelined in the last elections and who now have a 5,3 percent support rating.
Close to 96 percent of Czech households have access to at least one mobile phone, according to figures released by Eurobarometer on Tuesday. The statistics put Czechs high on the EU ladder in the number of mobile phones per capita, together with the Scandinavian states. On the other hand Czechs are way below the EU average when it comes to using fixed lines. Only 15 percent of Czechs have both a mobile phone and have maintained a fixed line, while the EU average is 62 percent. Only 1 percent of households have a fixed line only.
The coming days should be warm and sunny with scattered showers and day temperatures in the 30s. Heat storms are expected on Wednesday when temperatures may reach 33 degrees Celsius.