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Venezuela: Barrio Adentro for everybody

From | VenEconomy

24.09.05 | Hugo Chávez’s revolution also encompasses the health sector; nevertheless, his actual contribution in this area has consisted of little more than hot air.

On the one hand, the administration’s propaganda machine has made much of the Barrio Adentro Mission, the “immediate response” program for dealing with the low-income population’s health needs. The missions, which have received unimaginable and unaccounted-for sums of petrodollars, have been very well received by the people, despite deficient performance. More to the point, they have worked well as tools for ideological penetration in the slums, thanks to the many Cuban “sawbones” heading the missions. Meanwhile, the government’s contributions to the formal health sector have been few and inadequate.

Over nearly seven years of Bolivarian rule, the health system has received no more than an occasional band-aid. Nothing has been done about the structural problems that have been building up throughout more than 20 years of indifference, politicking and corruption. Adding injury to insult, the alleged solutions have simply aggravated the already weakened hospital network and done away with the former outpatient facilities. One example that says it all is the José Gregorio Hernández Hospital in Magallanes. The consequences of this absence of properly thought out, sustainable and consistent policies are to be found in the lower life expectancy of Venezuelans, which dropped to 72.7 years in 2003, an 8-month reduction according to UNDP figures.

Now, as is its wont, the process headed by Chávez is setting out to solve the problems in the sector by means of another punitive and coercive law that will only make matters worse and hurt the country’s private medical sector –considered one of the best in Latin America.

The Health Bill, now going through the second discussion in the National Assembly, is being questioned by doctors and other health-care professionals, arguing that it is unconstitutional because it undoes decentralization and takes the sector back to conditions that were left behind in the ‘80s.

The bill would also eliminate all the health insurance policies covering government employees, depriving civil servants of a major victory, to the detriment of their health. Furthermore, it would hurt the private health care sector since the services provided under insurance policies would be provided by the government system.

The worrisome thing about this law is that it leaves the door open for a takeover of the entire private insurance and health care system, perhaps for the purpose of forcing everyone in the country to use Barrio Adentro.



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