Thousands of Macedonian citizens, who previously had access only to emergency health care and certain hospital services, are now eligible to receive free primary care through the government. Coverage now extends to vulnerable segments of the population, such as the homeless, the elderly and the unemployed.
The change stems from an amendment to the Law on Public Health that went into effect last month. The new law targets these "marginalised groups", Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said.
Minister of Health Bujar Osmani affirmed that, with these reforms, the government for the first time has satisfied a main principle of the Macedonian Constitution: coverage and protection of the health of all citizens.
The government will underwrite the newly eligible patients' coverage, enabling them to receive health care services on the same footing as those who are employed and pay for health insurance.
Universal health insurance covers unlimited visits to a personal primary care physician, preventive care and examinations and treatment abroad. Patients with specific contagious diseases will also be able to receive treatment under the plan, unless they have other insurance. They still have to pay for any medications.
Deputy Health Minister Vladimir Popovski explained that the new law harmonises even the terminology with that of the EU member states. Macedonia's federal Department for Public Health will now be called the Institute for Public Health and its regional offices centres of public health.
According to initial financial projections, this new health care system will cost more than 5m euros to implement.
While society generally welcomed the expansion of medical care, some doctors criticised the impending burden on the federal budget. Funds, they say, should also go to many dilapidated hospitals that lack adequate medical supplies or equipment.
According to Dr Gjorge Jovanov, "With the funds that the government is now providing, many of the patients who were not able to receive health care will have coverage, which is a very good thing. On the other hand, part of this money can be used to improve conditions for patients who already have insurance."