The Armenian Ministry of Health suspended on Friday a controversial directive that required state-run policlinics in Yerevan to charge patients for some of the medical services provided by them.
The ministry announced earlier this month that starting from March 1 patients will have to pay up to 1,000 drams ($2.4) for a single examination of their condition conducted at the policlinics done through special medical equipment or blood and other tests. The measure was due to be initially enforced only at primary healthcare institutions in Yerevan.
Ministry officials called the planned fees “symbolic” and said they are aimed at curbing widespread informal payments carried out in the system. They argued that policlinic staff will receive half of the new legal payments.
The ministry cited similar motives behind its separate decision to make pregnant women hospitalized with various complications pay 5,000 drams for every day spent in a hospital. All medical services provided to them have been free until now.
Both measures sparked controversy, with dozens of people, most of them women, demonstrating outside the Ministry of Health building in Yerevan in recent days. Health Minister Derenik Dumanian said earlier this week that the new pregnancy payments have been abolished.
Dumanian went on to delay the entry into force of the policlinic charges until July 1. A statement posted on the ministry’s website Friday attributed the move to the need to “clarify mechanisms for their introduction.”
Deputy Health Minister Vahan Poghosian and the chief of the ministry staff, Suren Krmoyan, confirmed the information as they met with a group of protesting women. Both men defended the idea of eliminating some of the free policlinic services, saying that it would help to reduce corruption in the healthcare system.
The protesters disagreed, saying that this would only increase the amount of bribes and other informal payments and that the authorities should instead crack down on corrupt healthcare officials. “They are doing nothing to eliminate corruption risks,” one of them claimed after the meeting.
Public access to healthcare in Armenia declined dramatically following the collapse of the Soviet Union as cash-strapped governments allowed state-owned medical institutions to legally charge their patients. The problem was compounded by the widespread practice of informal payments.
This was the reason why all policlinic charges were abolished in January 2006. The number of Armenians visiting the primary healthcare centers rose dramatically in the following months.