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Germany

Government, Opposition Reach Compromise on Health Reform

Government and opposition parties finally forged a draft reform of Germany's expensive healthcare system on Friday after a marathon session. Critics say those insured will have to dig deeper into their pockets.

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Details ironed out: Health Minister Ulla Schmidt (right) and opposition party negotiator Horst Seehofer.

German government and opposition parties on Friday morning reached agreement on a draft for crucial new legislation on health care reform. Health Minister Ulla Schmidt and opposition Christian Democratic Party / Christian Social Party (CDU / CSU) health expert Horst Seehofer emerged Friday morning from 13 hours of talks optimistic that the bill would be passed by parliament.

"All questions have been resolved," said Schmidt. "The work has been completed," announced Seehofer.

The suggestions, which have already been discussed with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and opposition leaders Angela Merkel (CDU) and Edmund Stoiber (CSU), will be submitted to the parliamentary groups and committees from the ruling coalition parties and CDU/CSU next week. The bill could become law by early next year.

The two sides had agreed on the central features of the reform weeks ago, but several issues, such as financing dentures and sick pay, remained contentious. The draft foresees German residents taking out individual insurance policies to receive cover for dentures from 2005. They will also have to bear the burden of sick pay -- which employees receive from the seventh week of illness -- alone from 2006.

Savings at the expense of the insured

Health insurance companies criticized the compromise on Friday. "It is very one-sided at the expense of the people insured, since of the circa €9 billion ($9.8) we estimate in savings for 2004, the people insured pay around 8 billion, a billion comes from the medication segment," the head of the health insurance fund Barmer Ersatzkasse, Eckart Fiedler, said on Deutschlandfunk radio. "That means all the others make no contribution."

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