As of this Sunday, Hungary’s newly-modified labor code mandates that workers who accept gratuities are guilty of a crime, unless told to do so by their employers. Which sounds both pretty harsh, and like it was aimed at the nation’s doctors, who are known to get much of their income from so-called hálapénz (“gratitude money”). But just in case you expect that state-employed Hungarian doctors are going to stop expecting envelopes stuffed with forints for routine procedures, think again, since Hungarian Hospital Association head Jenő Rácz has gone on record saying he’s okay with having the practice continue. Which is pretty sick!
It shouldn’t take a Ph.D. in health economics to see that the system of hálapénz deeply corrosive to the whole concept of single-payer healthcare, as it ends up leading to patients with cash getting better service than those without, and a cadre of senior doctors living like kings while junior MDs and other medical staffers almost literally go hungry. This is one reason so many younger doctors are fleeing the country.
But even if hálapénz wasn’t bad for the health of the health care system, it would still be bad. For one thing, officially tolerated or not, it’s not like these bribes is being declared to the taxman. And again, they’re bribes! So overall, the whole thing hobbles any effort made to rid Hungary of the cancer of corruption. Though at this point, the rot has spread so far the country should probably just be moved to a hospice. Ugh. [kisalfold.hu/HATC]