June 18, 2018 / 2:49 PM / 9 months ago

Finland to slow health care reform by moving ahead in stages

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland on Monday postponed carrying out health care reform in full, a cornerstone of moves to balance public finances strained by the costs of the Nordic country’s fast-ageing population.

The government decision was prompted by a call from parliament’s constitutional law committee earlier this month for amendments to the draft reform bill, saying it breached the constitution in its current form.

The reform, conceived after a decade of wrangling and projected to save 3 billion euros ($3.5 billion) in annual spending, aims to boost healthcare competition by opening up opportunities for private sector providers.

But, given the objections on constitutional grounds, the government said on Monday this key aspect of the reform would be implemented around the country only by 2022, one year later than previously anticipated.

The committee assessed that the bill as now written could jeopardize some health services if the private sector was given more business opportunities too quickly.

The reform will also create 18 new counties that would take over responsibility for health services from local governments.

Those are due to start at the beginning of 2020, but that target may also be pushed back depending on how soon the parliament can vote on the bill, Minister of Local Government and Public Reforms Anu Vehvilainen told a news conference.

“We need this reform. It is a big reform, which will be implemented one step at a time,” Social Affairs and Health Minister Pirkko Mattila added.

Parliament is due to vote on the bill by September.

The reform is a complex compromise which almost brought down the center-right coalition government in 2015.

Some politicians fear the new counties mean that rural regions will take on too much power from cities, while others object to the private sector being given a greater role.

In addition, analysts say the expected cost savings are highly uncertain.

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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