BEIRUT — The Lebanese Health Ministry and the World Bank reached an agreement Thursday to support the hospitalization costs of patients with public health insurance, in a country where nearly 80 percent of the population now lives in poverty.
Under this agreement, an amount three and a half times higher than that covered by the ministry will be paid to hospitals, thus reducing the difference to be paid by patients. This support is intended to assist health care facilities as much as patients, as Lebanon's medical struggles in the face of a now 2-year-old economic crisis and is weakened by the coronavirus pandemic that first appeared in the country in February 2020.
At a joint press conference with World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha, Health Minister Firass Abiad referred to “the difficult financial circumstances suffered by not only patients but also hospitals, due to the collapse of the local currency, without any adjustment of rates by insurers who are still based on the old exchange rate.”
“That’s why it was necessary to relieve the citizens while raising the level of preparation of hospitals with the new wave of coronavirus infections,” the minister explained.
Officially, Lebanon’s national currency, the lira, remains pegged to the US dollar at around LL1,500; however, it is presently trading at above LL24,000 to the dollar on the parallel market.
“The cooperation program with the World Bank to support the hospitalization costs of patients affiliated to the Health Ministry concerns all hospitals, public and private, and amounts to three and a half times the official rate set by the ministry. This will ease the burden on the citizen and provide support to hospitals so that they can continue to perform their role,” Abiad said.
“This support of three and a half times the ministry's rate also applies to doctors’ fees,” the minister added, explaining that in this way “everyone will get their full rights, so as to help doctors stay in Lebanon and continue their mission.”
The health minister added that this program is part of a $120 million World Bank loan of which $60 million was used to finance efforts to fight COVID-19 pandemic, while the remaining amount has been allocated to support the hospital sector, “pending a recovery of the economy.”
For his part, Jha said, “We live in this country and we know what happens when a family member has to be hospitalized. Hospitals are suffering a lot to preserve their medical staff and a good level of services, in the shadow of the financial crisis that hits Lebanon.”
Last month, the prices of medicines soared after the state subsidies on many treatments were stopped as Banque du Liban reserves hit a critical threshold.