The Cabinet is expected to approve this week a hike in NSSF subscription fees and hospitalization rates, averting a private hospitals’ strike that threatened to deprive one-third of Lebanese of health care starting Friday.
“The decree will be passed in the first [Cabinet] session to be held next week and the issue will be [resolved]. It is a not a suitable time for any more troubles,” Ghassan Ghosn, head of the General Labor Confederation, told the Central News Agency over the weekend.
Last Thursday, the Private Hospitals Association said that they would stop accepting NSSF patients unless hospitalization fees paid by the fund are hiked.
In order to pay higher hospitalization fees, the NSSF says it is required to increase the income cap subject to sickness and maternity subscription fees.
Private hospitals argue that the medical fees paid by the NSSF have not been amended for more than a decade in spite of substantial hikes in costs, including a recent wage increase.
Suleiman Haroun, head of the Private Hospitals Association, said he had no information on whether the Cabinet would pass the decree next week.
“The strike is going through until the Cabinet officially endorses the decree,” he told The Daily Star.
Haroun insisted the decree had proceeded in a completely transparent fashion with drafts being approved by the Shura Council, the Finance Ministry and the NSSF board.
“What kind of government disrespects its own institutions and for no reason delays taking a decision on such a crucial matter for months,” Haroun added.
In May, private hospitals, the NSSF and the government reached a deal to increase hospitalization fees after agreeing to raise the income cap subject to NSSF fees.
However, the Economic Association, a private sector grouping, has voiced opposition to the measure, arguing that businesses cannot afford any additional costs under the current economic conditions.
According to several sources, the group piled pressure on Prime Minister Najib Mikati to delay the hikes until economic conditions improve.
If the income cap subject to maternity and sickness subscription fees is raised from LL1.5 million to LL2.5 million, maximum fees paid by business owners could increase from LL105,000 to LL175,000.
“This is a really insignificant increase and there is no reason [for the private sector to oppose it],” Haroun said. “On average it would cost businesses no more than LL35,000.”
Head of the Industrialists Association Nehmat Frem said Friday the Economic Committees would approve an increase of the cap to LL2 million instead of LL2.5 million. “We condition [further increases] to fundamental reforms at the fund.
“[Raising the cap to LL2 million] would be sufficient to resolve the fund’s current financial crisis,” he added.
NSSF maternity and sickness fees amount to 9 percent of wages.