September 28, 2019 / 12:28 PM / 20 days ago

Poland's ruling PiS vows to boost public healthcare ahead of vote

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s ruling nationalists promised on Saturday to raise funding of the health service, another hefty spending pledge in an election campaign where they have sought to position themselves as champions of the welfare state.

FILE PHOTO: Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaks during an election meeting in Stalowa Wola, Poland, August 18, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

Along with its defense of what it sees as traditional Polish values, the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party has made increased social spending a key plank of its bid to win reelection on Oct. 13.

“There must be a health service that is universally available and at the same time, which I want to stress forcefully, public,” PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told a party convention.

“The private sector will play a supplementary role ... above all we must ensure every citizen of our country, every compatriot, has medical services and support for free.”

PiS plans to raise public healthcare expenditure to 160 billion zlotys ($40 billion) by 2024. In 2016, it was 84.6 billion zlotys, according to Poland’s statistics office.

The party also pledged to build a new oncology center, offer a package of medical check-ups for every Pole, improve care for senior citizens and create a fund for modernizing hospitals.

In common with eastern European neighbors, private healthcare is booming in Poland, as low public spending has led to increased waiting times and staff shortages that have pushed many to seek faster treatment privately.

In Poland, state healthcare spending reaching only about 4.6% of GDP in 2016 well below the 6.6% average among OECD countries.

CASH HANDOUTS

The healthcare pledges follow hot on the heels of promises earlier this month to almost double the minimum wage for workers and offer pensioners regular annual cash bonuses.

Earlier in the year, the party announced increased spending on child benefits and transport infrastructure as well as a package of tax cuts.

While some observers have warned of the dangers of major increases in public spending ahead of an economic slowdown, PiS has been keen to present itself as fiscally responsible, vowing to cut debt and proposing the country’s first balanced budget in three decades.

Economists have pointed out that the plan for a balanced budget in 2020 is dependent on a number of one-off factors and may be revised after the elections.

PiS is well ahead in the opinion polls, consistently scoring over 40% while the main liberal opposition grouping, Civic Coalition, usually scores below 30%.

Reporting by Alan Charlish and Alicja Ptak; Editing by Mark Potter

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