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Reforming health care in Hungary

By Lajos Császi and Patricia Kullberg

Abstract

Over the past two decades Hungary has initiated a series of social and economic reforms which have emphasized decentralization of control and the reintroduction of market mechanisms into the socialized economy. These reforms both reflect and reinforce a changing social structure, in particular the growing influence of upper class special interest groups. Market reforms are an expression of concurrent ideological shifts in Hungarian society. We examined the political significance of three recent proposals to reform health services against the backdrop of broader social and economic changes taking place. The first proposes a bureaucratic reorganization, the second, patient co-payments, and the third, a voucher system. The problems each proposal identifies, as well as the constituency each represents, reveal a trend toward consolidation of class structure in Hungary. Only one of these proposals has any potential to democratize the control and management of the health care system. Moreover, despite a governmental push toward decentralization, two of these proposals would actually increase centralized bureaucratic control. Two of the reforms incorporate market logic into their arguments, an indication that the philosophical premises of capitalism are re-emerging as an important component of the Hungarian world-view. In Hungary, as well as in other countries, social analysis of proposed health care reforms can effectively illuminate the social and political dynamics of the larger society.

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