This article has been published online by the Magyar Nemzet on October 9, 2020.
The bill submitted by Gergely Gulyás, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, and Miklós Kásler, Human Resources Minister, will provide major salary raises for doctors in Hungary. The legislation was unanimously approved with 165 votes in favor after being fast-tracked through Parliament.
At a minimum, every doctor’s salary will double. These increases will be implemented in a series of three steps: the first raise comes in 2021, the second in 2022, and by 2023 doctors will be paid up to 5 times as much as in 2019. Freshly employed doctors will be making around 687 thousand forints (around 1,900 euro) as opposed to their current 255 thousand (around 700 euro). Meanwhile, those with at least 40 years of experience will go from earning around 525 thousand forints (1450 euros) to 2.4 million (6700 euros).
Another significant facet of the legislation criminalizes “hálapénz”—in other words, the widespread practice of offering doctors tips or gratuities. Moreover, non-cash items gifted to doctors must not exceed 5% of their monthly minimum wage.
Hungary has managed to adeptly and adequately defend against the coronavirus pandemic—said Miklós Kásler, Human Resources Minister. He went on to highlight that even in the face of enormous pressure, the Hungarian medical system was able to persevere with the help of governmental and nation-wide cooperation.
While healthcare collapsed in other countries, Hungary managed the crisis quite commendably throughout the spring. Though autumn will bring new challenges, our nation is still faring well. Gabriella Selmeczi, Fidesz spokesperson, cited statistics in her daily address: with around 600 to 1000 reported infections per day, Hungary is among some of the most successful countries in fighting coronavirus. Bence Rétvári, Parliamentary Secretary of State of the Ministry of Human Resources, highlighted that Hungary’s mortality rate per one million inhabitants is much better than other, more affluent countries—such as the United States and Switzerland. Additionally, testing for the virus is entirely free when prescribed by a doctor.
Though the bill is an unprecedented positive development for the Hungarian medical system—introduced despite the daunting coronavirus crisis—it did not go without criticism. As State Secretary Balázs Orbán expressed: while this time of the pandemic should be an occasion for putting party politics aside, this is not the reality of the case. Representatives from most opposition parties spoke out with criticisms of the bill.
Lajos Korózs (Hungarian Socialist Party MP), Zoltán Varga (Democratic Coalition MP), László Lóránt Keresztes (Hungary’s Green Party MP), and Krisztina Hohn (Hungary’s Green Party MP) all criticized the speed at which the legislation was passed. According to their statements, not enough time was given for any response to the proposal. MP Korózs also objected to the fact that nurses, emergency medics, and other medical workers would not be able to benefit from this new pay structure. MP Hohn disapproved of the potential relocation of doctors included in the legislation. She also pointed out that general medical practitioners will not receive salary hikes as according to the current stipulations. To this, Gergely Gulyás responded that the government is working on pay raises for general practitioners as well; they will eventually be receiving increased salaries too.
Minister Miklós Kásler classifies most of these criticisms as nitpicking. In addition, complaints on the speed of the implementation of the legislation are redundant given that the opposition parties too voted for the emergency, expedited measures introduced by the government in the spring.
Meanwhile, Jobbik politician László György Lukács offered his opinion with an elaborate and dramatic comparison to a cake: the wage hikes are enticing and attractive on the outside, but on the inside, devoid of any impactful results. Lőrinc Nacsa, KDNP (Christian Democratic People’s Party) politician responded: Lukács was angered because now his scheme of exporting Hungarian doctors is ruined. However, more importantly, he—along with other opposition politicians—is ignoring the fact that this legislation is an unprecedented example of radical salary raises in Hungary’s medical community.
In fact, while the current government managed to implement these unmatched measures the socialists in power only a little over a decade ago acted in a starkly different manner. At that time, the left-wing government was the only one to be consistently decreasing expenditure per capita on health spending. This trend was reversed by the currently ruling Fidesz; from 2010 to 2018 Hungary’s per capita health spending was the seventh fastest growing in Europe. The Socialist Party also eliminated the 13 th month bonus salary which led to Hungarian doctors fleeing to foreign countries for better pay. By the end of their term, the country faced extreme economic challenges underscored by the 12% unemployment rate. Since then, Fidesz successfully lowered it to 3.3%