By Emil Danielyan
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian showcased on Monday his first open interference in the government’s work, demanding that ministers call a halt to the privatization of Armenia’s remaining public hospitals.
“The haphazard privatization of medical institutions may paralyze the country’s health care sector and lead to social problems,” Baghdasarian said in an extraordinary statement released by the parliament’s press service. “The privatization of medical institutions must be suspended until the modernization of the health care system.”
It was not clear what prompted the 34-year-old speaker to press the executive in a way that was not practiced by his predecessors. The statement did not specify which concrete hospitals the government plans to put up for sale and whether its three ministers affiliated with Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party will raise the issue with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.
Orinats Yerkir got the second largest faction in the National Assembly as a result of its strong showing in the May 25 disputed parliamentary elections. Orinats Yerkir, widely accused of populism, went on to form a coalition government with two other parties supporting President Robert Kocharian. One of them, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) controls the post of health minister. Relations between Baghdasarian’s party and Dashnaktsutyun have been uneasy in the past.
Some of Armenia’s largest hospitals located in Yerevan have already been privatized in recent years, usually by their previous government-appointed directors. Baghdasarian argued that health care must not be concentrated in private hands as long as Armenia lacks a national mandatory system of medical insurance. Its creation is seriously hampered by widespread poverty and unemployment.
Most medical services in Armenia became paid in the early 1990s and are still beyond the purse of many people. The meager health budgets of successive Armenian governments have not alleviated the problem.