Venezuelan Health Minister Eugenia Sader announced during a televised news conference yesterday that the country’s private hospitals will not raise fees for the next three weeks. The freeze is meant to give lawmakers and representatives of the private health care industry time to strategize on ways to keep hospital costs down. The measure is part of a multi-sector effort to curb Venezuela’s 25.1 percent annual inflation rate—the highest in Latin America. This has led to sharp increases in the fees for visits and treatments.
President Hugo Chávez has long criticized the private health care industry for charging excessive fees and denying access for the poor and uninsured. But Hipolito Garcia of the Association of Private Clinics, who joined Minister Sader at the conference, said that hospital representatives also promised to guarantee care for patients needing emergency medical care even if they lack full insurance coverage.
Throughout his presidency, President Chávez has sought to improve Venezuela’s public health system. Due to close ties with Cuba’s Fidel Castro—and in exchange for shipments of Venezuelan oil—thousands of Cuban doctors have come to the slums of Venezuela to provide health care to the poor. However, underfunding and a limited number of physicians in public hospitals means that many Venezuelans prefer private clinics despite the high costs.