German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (Social Democratic Party, SPD) plans to make up a health insurance deficit of at least €17 billion next year by increasing contributions from ordinary insurers and looting health insurance reserves. . Announcing his plans, the minister explicitly referred to the war in Ukraine.
Two months ago, the WSWS described the federal budget as a “declaration of war on the people” after the government decided to triple overall military spending and give the German army (Bundeswehr) a “special fund” of €100 billion. We wrote: “The cost of rearmament will be borne by the working class in all respects.”
This analysis has now been confirmed. Lauterbach is no longer prepared to fill the health insurance gap through state subsidies as has been done in the past. Instead, he demands higher contributions from the vast majority of the population that cannot afford private insurance. In doing so, the health minister directly affirmed the intention of the ruling “traffic light” coalition (SPD, Greens, Free Democratic Party) to comply with the debt brake mechanism (i.e. no new loans) in the federal budget. of 2023.
When Lauterbach appeared before the press on Tuesday, June 28, he repeatedly thanked Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) for “the good cooperation and the agreed result.” He reported that the Finance Minister had taken care “that we do not end up with proposals that violate the debt brake, that require tax increases or require a supplementary budget… I expressly share the three objectives of the Federal Finance Minister.”
The projected €17 billion shortfall in health insurance by 2023 is likely an underestimate. Other forecasts assume an amount of 25,000 million euros. the BILD The newspaper published this figure from the Institute for Health Economics (IfG) in Munich along with its explanation that the estimate of 17 billion euros “does not yet include the war in Ukraine and its consequences.” Additional shortfalls worth billions of euros are also expected for unemployment insurance and old-age care insurance.
In order to plug the financial hole in health insurance funds, increases in contributions from blue and white collar workers are expected to raise €5bn. In addition, insurance reserves will also be looted. Lauterbach explained that the various health insurance companies and their common health fund have a combined reserve of 6.4 billion euros that could be used to help cover the shortfall. “We are in the middle of the Ukraine war,” the minister stressed. “All the reserves of the funds must be used.”
So far the shortfall has been absorbed by federal subsidies, most recently amounting to €14bn, but “this would not apply next year!” the minister said. According to Lauterbach, there will be a tax subsidy of only €2 billion and a federal loan of €1 billion. The minister plans to collect another 3,000 million euros of “efficiency improvements”, without giving more information.
According to Lauterbach: “It will be a difficult autumn. Related to the pandemic. We will have to fight the Ukraine war. We will have a hard time providing the tax-based funding we need in other areas.” In response to a reporter’s question about whether the increase in contributions was the end of the story or if there would be more cuts, Lauterbach replied: “A lot will depend on how the war in Ukraine continues.”
Higher contribution rates will push health insurance contributions to a record level. Public insurers have some 57 million members and insure 73 million people: administrative and administrative workers, family members, retirees and the unemployed. The anticipated additional contribution is currently 1.3 per cent, but will be increased by 0.3 per cent to 1.6 per cent. As its name indicates, the new increase is applied in addition to the general health insurance contribution, which stands at a maximum of 14.6 percent.
With 16.2 percent in the future, this number will be higher than ever. It is true that the respective employer contributes to the insurance pro rata. However, depending on the tax bracket, total taxes and insurance contributions can now amount to 40 percent of gross wages. This means that of a gross salary of €2,000 net, there is only €1,200 left to live on.
On Tuesday, Lauterbach announced that he would impose a one-time “solidarity tax” on the pharmaceutical industry, “which has gained a lot in the pandemic”, and thus raise another billion euros. The minister also claimed that “there would be no cuts in health care benefits,” but his attempts to create a semblance of social equity are laughable and completely implausible.
In reality, the country has long been plagued by a major nursing emergency. In Germany, along with the rest of the world, nurses and other healthcare workers are struggling with overwhelming workloads, grueling working conditions, the threat of coronavirus infection, and falling living standards due to inflation. An indefinite strike has been going on for more than two months in the university hospitals of North Rhine-Westphalia. In this situation, the ministerial promise that services will not worsen is equivalent to a slap in the face to the entire nursing staff.
Less than a week earlier, on June 22, Lauterbach promised health workers protesting at the Conference of Health Ministers that a new Care Relief Law would arrive “before the summer holidays.” The law will “end the financial shortage in hospitals” through minimum requirements in departments, declared Petra Grimm-Benne (also SPD), health minister of the state of Saxony-Anhalt and president of the conference of health ministers. . Sylvia Bühler, a member of Verdi’s service union executive, hailed “a big step forward”.
Just the opposite happens. Lauterbach simply acts according to the motto: “Who cares what I said yesterday.” As the WSWS noted when he took office, Lauterbach “always gives the profit interests of capital the benefit of the doubt over his scientific findings” and/or his hypocritical social commitment.
On the subject of the coronavirus, it is significant that the first decision of the government when Lauterbach joined was to abolish the “national epidemic emergency”. Lauterbach voted in favor of this decision, which decreed the end of lockdowns related to the pandemic and caused a massive resurgence of infections.
During the period in power of the last SPD-Green government and afterwards, Lauterbach played a key role in the dismantling of social systems and the privatization of hospitals. He was involved in the development of the pay-per-case system, which is so vehemently opposed by nurses today. For 12 years he was on the supervisory board of Rhön-Klinikum AG, which made headlines because of his lousy treatment of the nursing staff. When the Bertelsmann Foundation called for the mass closure of hospitals, Lauterbach tweeted in June 2019: “Everyone knows that we should close at least one in three, in fact one in two, clinics in Germany.”
Just a few days ago, Lauterbach ordered the abolition of the existing system of free coronavirus tests, while at the same time admitting to journalist Eckart von Hirschhausen that Long COVID causes organ damage and is equivalent to an “untreated generalized disease”.
With his announcement that the government will no longer pay the shortfall in health insurance funds due to the war in Ukraine, the health minister has confirmed the need for health workers fighting for decent working conditions withdraw Verdi’s negotiating mandate and join forces internationally. in independent action committees.
Verdi, like all the other unions, is totally on the side of the government. Its officials are members of the governing parties and support government policy, which basically prioritizes profit over health. For this reason, the conditions in nursing were unbearable even before the pandemic. And as the Action Committee for Nursing writes in its strike call in NRW, “The operators of public and private hospitals are also benefiting from this intolerable situation! Every understaffed shift, every mental and physical collapse of colleagues due to overwork, and every underresourced patient helps their coffers grow!”
The Action Committee demands a multimillion-dollar investment program and the restructuring of hospitals so that they correspond to the needs of workers and patients. This will require nurses to broaden their struggle, reach out to the working class and lead strikes together across sectors and national borders.
the world socialist website supports the construction of action committees in each clinic and workplace! Contact the Nursing Action Committee via WhatsApp number: +49 1520 3521345 and participate in the construction of the International Workers Alliance Action Committees (AIT-RFC)!