About $ 18 million from a World Bank loan will be allocated to the crumbling Lebanese public health sector with the aim of reducing the inflated bills of vulnerable patients, said Health Minister Firass Abiad. The National Thursday.
The Lebanese Ministry of Public Health normally pays 85% of the bill for patients hospitalized without private insurance, but this amount has fallen dramatically with the massive devaluation of the Lebanese pound over the past two years caused by the country’s economic collapse.
To cover the additional costs of the devaluation, hospitals have increased their bills five-fold, pushing many of Lebanon’s poorest out of the health system. Mr. Abiad estimated that the ministry covers the health expenses of more than 40 percent of the population.
The central bank has not removed the official peg of 1,500 Lebanese pounds against the dollar despite market rates reaching 23,000 Lebanese pounds against the dollar this week. Government agencies such as the Ministry of Health operate with an exchange rate 15 times lower than the cost of most imported products, paid in cash.
In an attempt to lower hospital costs, as well as the final bill given to patients, the ministry and the World Bank announced Thursday morning at a joint press conference the launch of a support program with a budget between $ 16 million and $ 18 million, to be disbursed over the next six to eight months, Abiad said.
“Hospitals are having a hard time retaining staff, doctors … because of the country’s financial situation,” World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha said at the press conference.
The World Bank will benefit from a loan of 120 million dollars in 2017 to the Lebanese health sector, nearly half of which has already been disbursed to fight the coronavirus pandemic in Lebanon.
The Health Ministry plans to reimburse 3.5 times more to hospitals that treat patients under its coverage than before – still working with the official exchange rate. This will not cover all the additional costs incurred by hospitals, but it should alleviate some of their financial burdens.
“It’s very difficult to tell hospitals not to ask patients to pay extra,” said Abiad, who ran Lebanon’s largest public hospital before his ministerial appointment. “A better step is to make sure they receive financial incentives that can be used as leverage in future negotiations.”
Update: December 2, 2021, 4:30 p.m.