Deputy Health Minister Lena Nanushian said on Tuesday that that the Ministry of Health has drafted relevant legislation and submitted it to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s cabinet for approval.
“The proposed package is quite comprehensive and will cover 90-95 percent of all [medical] services,” she said, adding that this includes, among other things, heart and cancer surgeries as well as free medication for people suffering from chronic diseases.
Free healthcare would be financed by a 6 percent personal income tax. Public and private employers would pay half of the new tax to be levied from their workers.
Former Health Minister Arsen Torosian pushed for such a tax in 2019 amid strong opposition from mostly middle-class Armenians willing to only pay for their own, private health insurance. Pashinian’s government did not go ahead with the proposed measure at the time.
Speaking with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Monday, Torosian, who is now a parliament deputy representing the ruling Civil Contract party, said the government should tread carefully on the issue.
Armenia’s former governments also promised to introduce a national health insurance system. But they abandoned those plans in the face of financial constraints.
Public access to healthcare in the country declined following the collapse of the Soviet Union as cash-strapped Armenian hospitals were allowed to charge their patients. Most of those hospitals were privatized in the 1990s.
Only state-run policlinics are now required to provide medical services to the population free of charge. Healthcare, including surgeries, is also supposedly free for children aged 7 and younger. Their parents often have to make hefty informal payments to doctors, however.
Also, over the past decade the state has partly covered healthcare expenses of civil servants, schoolteachers and other public sector employees.
Nanushian said that the proposed insurance system would significantly improve public health in Armenia. She argued that many of its low-income citizens in need of medical aid do not visit doctors for financial reasons.
Davit Melik-Nubarian, a public health lecturer at Yerevan’s Mkhitar Heratsi Medical University, welcomed the plans for mandatory insurance but said its introduction should be gradual. He also stressed the importance of proper government oversight of medical services that would be covered by the new system.