As of July 1, the East Tallinn Central Hospital raised the rates of fast-track appointments with medical specialists, saying the decision would shorten queues, raise doctor salaries and help cover costs.
In order to see a specialist in Estonia, patients must first obtain a slip from their general practitioner and then register. But queues for treatment can stretch for months and patients have the option of paying a higher copayment to skip the referral and waiting list.
At the given hospital, extra-charge appointments previously ranged from 14-70 euros, depending on the specialty and reputation of a doctor, and have now been raised to 50-91 euros. Some of the most expensive appointments are with eye surgeons and neurologists, reported Eesti Päevaleht.
"In the spring, we did not even have any extra-charge openings available to patients, despite high demand," said management member Kersti Reinsalu.
After last year's doctors' strike, the health care unions protested the hospitals' and government's decision to raise standard copayments, as the unions said they did not want their pay raise demands to be granted at the expense of patients. Standard visitation fees rose from 3.20 to 5 euros for outpatients and from 1.60 euros to 2.50 euros for inpatients.
According to the unions, there was enough money in the Health Insurance Fund reserve to grant pay raises, but the social affairs minister refused to utilize the reserves. Under the agreement that ended the strike, most of the money for minimum wage raises for doctors, nurses and caregivers was supposed to come from the Health Insurance Fund's budget and the state budget. Since costs exceeded allocations in 2013, however, the Hospitals Association agreed to cover the difference with its own funds. Raising copayments was projected to bring hospitals additional revenue of 4.5 million euros annually.