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News 15 Dec 17

Bulgarian Medical Treatment Funding Freeze Sparks Outrage

Patients’ organisations and political parties have vowed to take the Bulgarian state to court for halting public funding for innovative treatments for diseases like cancer, after the decision was backed by MPs.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Photo: Pixabay

Patients’ organisations and Bulgarian Ombudswoman Maya Manolova have pledged to challenge in court a controversial moratorium on public funding for innovative drugs, which was backed by the majority of MPs in parliament on Thursday.

The MPs rejected a presidential veto on the 2018 health fund budget, which freezes funding for such treatments for one year. The veto was imposed on December 8 by President Rumen Radev.

The MPs overthrew the presidential veto despite protests over the freeze, which according to the health ministry would save up to 25-30 million leva (between 12.5 and 15 million euros) in 2018 and would affect no more than 1,000 patients, who could use alternative treatment instead.

“A moratorium equals death. Nothing will come out of saving money from health. This is cynical,” Ivan Dimitrov, the chairman of the Bulgarian Patients’ Forum Federation, told BIRN.

Dimitrov said that as well as referring the case to all relevant Bulgarian and European institutions, patients will use the upcoming Bulgarian presidency of the EU to inform European decision-makers about the actions of the Bulgarian administration.

“Human lives do not mean anything to them,” he claimed.

The controversial move was greenlighted with the votes of 126 MPs from the leading party GERB, its coalition partner, the United Patriots, and businessman Vesselin Mareshki’s party Volya, amid heated debates in parliament.

Stefan Danailov, a famous actor and MP from the Socialist party, told parliament that he himself is a cancer patient, and called on his fellow lawmakers to “forget about the millions” and “fulfil their duties”.

“We have been elected by the people and many of those people have been affected by this cruel disease [cancer],” Danailov said.

Right after the parliamentary session, the Socialists announced that they will take the case to the court on the grounds that it breaches the right to life and the right to access to medical treatment, which is guaranteed by Bulgaria’s constitution.

Health Minister Kiril Ananiev promised on Thursday however that not a single patient would be affected by the austerity measure.

Ananiev explained that for 27 of the banned 32 drugs, equivalent treatment has been guaranteed, while for the others, funding will be sought “in various ways”.

But Antoaneta Toncheva, a director of a biochemistry and genetics lab in Germany and one of the vocal critics of the ban, rejected the minister’s argument.

Toncheva told BIRN that 13 of the banned drugs have no effective equivalents and are used around the globe as proven therapies.

Six of the treatments were approved in 2016 and have no equivalents at all, she added.

“Bulgaria is at the bottom of the EU [league table] for the life expectancy of cancer patients,” Toncheva said, calling the moratorium “shameless and anti-human”.

“The fact that we are healthy today does not mean that we will not get sick tomorrow. This problem concerns all of us,” she added.

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