Finland to delay health care reforms by one year

Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila gives a statement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not pictured) at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The Finnish government will implement health and local government reforms in January 2020, Prime Minister Juha Sipila wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, effectively announcing a one-year delay to the center-right government’s key reform.

The reforms are a cornerstone of Sipila’s plan to balance public finances and boost the economy after a decade of stagnation. The reform aims to cut about 3 billion euros ($3.1 billion) off health care cost in the 10 years up to 2029 as Finland struggles with an ageing population.

But a parliamentary committee said last week that some of the government’s proposal to boost competition between public and private service providers breached Finland’s constitution, and that implementing the changes in January 2019 was unrealistic.

The government said in a statement it would bring an amended proposal to parliament and also draft a new bill that provides patients with new options for choosing between private and public services providers.

The delay is the latest hurdle for the complex set of reforms spanning health care and regional administration, which the coalition partners agreed to in December after years of negotiations. The issue nearly toppled the government in 2015.

Sipila told reporters that the government plans to pass necessary laws by summer 2018, less than a year before the next general election.

The reform will establish 18 new counties and shift responsibility for the provision of services to new health care regions, from more than 300 local governments at present.

The government, half-way into its four-year tenure, plans to find savings worth 10 billion euros to balance public finances over the long term.

Reporting by Tuomas Forsell; Editing by Toby Chopra and Richard Balmforth