By Atom Markarian
A senior Armenian government official rejected on Wednesday as “unacceptable” parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s calls for a halt to the ongoing privatization of public hospitals and policlinics.
In a statement on Monday, Baghdasarian said the “haphazard” process must be suspended until the introduction of mandatory health insurance covering the country’s entire population and a major reduction in widespread poverty.
But the head of the government’s Committee on State Property, David Vartanian, scoffed at the arguments. “Frankly, I find it hard to link the privatization to poverty reduction,” he told RFE/RL. “It probably takes a good imagination to link the two things directly.”
Vartanian argued that the privatization of medical institutions is part of a government strategy of developing Armenia’s cash-strapped health care sector. He said the process is being handled in an orderly way as it covers only those facilities that were included on the list of state assets subject to privatization which was approved by Armenia’s previous parliament in 2001. The existence of a nationwide insurance system, seriously hampered by low living standards, is not a necessary condition for its continuation, he added.
A total of 37 hospitals and policlinics have been privatized in Armenia to date. Thirty-two others will be sold off in the near future, possibly by the end of this year.
According to Vartanian, the government has no intention to freeze the process and may only remove a few hospitals from the privatization list if their continued ownership by the state is advocated by health care experts, but not politicians.
It is not clear what prompted Baghdasarian to openly take issue with a government in which his Orinats Yerkir Party is represented with three ministers. The two other parties making up Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s cabinet have not yet reacted to the move. The current minister of health, Norayr Davidian, is affiliated with one of them, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
Baghdasarian’s statement reflects serious problems with the accessibility of medical facilities to a large part of the population. Most medical services in Armenia became paid in the early 1990s after the collapse of the state-funded Soviet-era health care.