According to Estonian Minister of Health Riina Sikkut (SDE), there is no better way to sort out the country's healthcare issues than to raise more funds through taxation.
Estonia is facing a potential €200 million shortfall in healthcare funding over the coming years. An analysis published last week suggests, that to maintain the current level of access to healthcare, some new taxes may need to be introduced. The analysis suggests, for example, that in order to make up the shortfall, the VAT rate should be raised by 3.5 percentage points or excise duties doubled on alcohol and tobacco.
Sikkut pointed out however, that while the examples given in the analysis are illustrative of the issue's magnitude, they do not contain any concrete proposals that she would go to the government with.
Raising taxes to increase the funding available for for healthcare is a matter of political agreement, Sikkut said. The minister added, that the government has already taken the tax proposals, which have been agreed on, to the Riigikogu and that there is currently no agreement to introduce, raise or change any additional taxes.
"This is a discussion we will have at the end of the year, when I will bring both the need for additional money and the proposals for substantive changes to the government for discussion. Then we will be able to comment on more concrete solutions," Sikkut said.
Mirko Ojakivi, who was interviewing the health minister, pointed out that Estonian society is already frustrated by recent tax increases. Therefore, he said, it is unlikely that possible tax increases to finance healthcare will be any better received.
Sikkut responded that nobody has to like tax increases. However, in her view, the society needs to be convinced that the extra money will lead to better healthcare.
"Nobody has to like tax increases. And that's why the focus of the healthcare financing debate is not on which tax to raise or how to raise it. The point is, that we actually need to convince society that this extra money will make things better," Sikkut said.
"It makes no sense for us to put a few hundred million euros into an unchanging system. Having family doctors and nurses in rural areas that people can get help from for their own health problems, as well as those of their children or loved ones, that we are more involved in prevention, and that care is more personalized - we must be able to do all of these things with the extra funds. And if we can't, then we don't really need the money," she added.
Sikkut said, that the best way to sort out healthcare issues is to take in more money through taxes. She believes, that if the extra funds for healthcare cannot be found, the current problems will only get worse.
"People are already dissatisfied with the service. We have waiting lists, problems finding health workers in rural areas and finding nurses in Tallinn hospitals. All these problems will be exacerbated if there is no extra money," she said.
"I think that no matter how much somebody likes paying tax, we want to get the medical care we need. We also understand that as the population ages, the need for that care increases. And there's really no better way to organize healthcare than to bring in a little bit money through taxes," the minister added.
Editor: Michael Cole