A long-debated reform of the German healthcare system passed the upper house of parliament Friday and, pending the signature of the president, is ready to go into effect on April 1.
The reform's final corners are being tucked in and made ready for 82 million Germans
Two weeks after meeting with the approval of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, 11 of the country's16 federal states voted in favor of the embattled reform with the remaining five abstaining from Friday's vote in the Bundestag.
Health Minister Ulla Schmidt made the case for the reform before the vote, calling it a successful compromise that would provide healthcare to all Germans, many of whom she said still do not know what to think of the reform due to "the this way and that way, up and down, for and against" that has dominated the debate.
Now that it has passed, she added that the government could begin the work of explaining its advantages with concrete examples to the 82 million insured citizens.
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Before voting in favor the reform, Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber admitted there were parts of the bill he would have preferred to see changed, but admitted the end result was "more than sustainable" and called it "the ruling grand coalition's most difficult reform project."
Saxony-Anhalt's Permier Wolfgang Böhmer also voted for the reform but added that the agreement did not signal the end of Germany's healthcare debate.
"We are at the end of a stage but the march will continue," he said.
Six major German insurers said the reform did not solve any of the country's healthcare problems and created news by adding bureaucracy and cutting competition.
"It is only a matter of time until the next reform begins," they said in a joint statement released on Friday.
The heart of the reform is the so-called "health fund." From 2009, all contributions to the public health insurance companies as well as state subsidies are supposed to be paid into this new fund. The companies will levy a standard premium for everyone, and if the money they are allocated from the health fund doesn't cover their costs, they will be able to charge the people they insure a supplement. Insurers who use their funds efficiently and don't demand more money of their clients will thus be more appealing to the public.
Largely seen as a formality, the bill needs German President Horst Köhler's signature before it becomes law.