An insurance plan unveiled by the government recently calls for a special tax that will cover the cost of surgeries and other essential medical services. According to government estimates, every working citizen will have to pay between 150,000 and 200,000 drams ($375-$500) annually for such coverage.
Samvel Kharazian, an expert at the Armenian Ministry of Health, cautioned on Tuesday that these figures could be revised upwards by the time the insurance system is launched in 2027.
“These calculations are based on estimates made in 2019,” explained Kharazian. “We now need to update those estimates given the existing realities: inflation and the like.”
The government has promised significant tax discounts for workers earning less than the average wage in Armenia. It currently stands at 248,000 drams ($620) per month, according to official statistics.
The mandatory insurance plan will not cover plastic surgery, dental services, additional patient care or some types of post-surgical rehabilitation. But it envisages free or subsidized medication for people suffering from chronic diseases.
Also, cancer patients will receive 1.6 million drams ($4,000) each for chemotherapy. Vahe Ter-Minasian, a surgical oncologist, downplayed this sum.
“Believe me, for many patients 1.6 million drams is the cost of one or two courses of chemotherapy,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “It will turn out that patients still have to think about raising money [for cancer medication.]”
Ter-Minasian also questioned the government’s overall plan for mostly free healthcare, saying that it is short of specifics on some key issues. In particular, he said, it is not clear who will check the quality of medical services to be covered by insurance and how the health authorities plan to settle potential financial disputes with hospitals.
Armenia’s former governments too promised to put in place mandatory health insurance for all citizens. But they eventually backed away in the face of financial difficulties.
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 primary healthcare services to the population free of charge. Healthcare, including surgeries, is also supposedly free for children aged 7 and younger. In addition, over the past decade the state has partly covered healthcare expenses of civil servants, schoolteachers and other public sector employees.