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Parliamentary committee gives conditional green light to key healthcare reform provision

Finland’s controversial reform of health and social care was found wanting by a parliamentary committee on Friday, but it ruled that it can be fixed by MPs without a total rewrite by civil servants.

Tapani Tölli ja Annika Lapintie
The committee's deputy chair, Tapani Tölli of the Centre and its chair, Annika Lapintie of the Left Alliance, spoke to reporters on Friday afternoon. Image: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva

Fears of an imminent government crisis and collapse of its keynote legislation have been allayed by a cautious parliamentary approval for a main tenet of its sweeping reform of social and healthcare services.

The Finnish Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee on Friday afternoon released its long-awaited decision on whether a key part of the government's overhaul of the social and healthcare sector and regional government, known as sote, is constitutional.

The committee found much that it said still needs to be corrected in the plan, which is aimed at giving citizens more choice in selecting care providers.

However it stopped short of an outright rejection of the proposal. Its lengthy list of recommendations include a longer period of transition and better data protection rules, said committee chair Annika Lapintie of the opposition Left Alliance. Some parts also still need EU approval, the committee said.

Government parties upbeat

Deputy chair Tapani Tölli of the prime minister’s Centre Party and MP Wille Rydman of its main partner, the conservative National Coalition Party, were upbeat. They stressed that although there are many areas that need revision, the changes are all ones that can be made by the Parliament. In other words, the bill will not be sent back for the ministries for revision – as happened a year ago when the same committee rejected an earlier draft of the plan.

At Friday afternoon's press conference, former justice minister Anna-Maja Henriksson of the opposition Swedish People's Party wondered aloud why the government's latest draft still included some clauses that the committee had rejected last year.

Committee members from the three centre-right cabinet parties had argued that any further delay would exacerbate problems in the health and social welfare sector and lead to cost increases. Critics have claimed that the freedom-of-choice proposal would excessively benefit large private healthcare corporations – which are mostly foreign-owned – and undermine the public sector.

Potential government crisis averted?

If the committee had rejected the provision, that could have undermined the entire reform and triggered a postponement or cancellation of regional elections set for next autumn. Pundits had suggested that a collapse of the three-year-old government's centrepiece legislation could even lead to a fall of government and snap elections.

The provincial or so-called “county election” is still officially scheduled for 28 October, but will likely be delayed. It would lay an essential foundation for the government’s proposed regional government reform, which in turn goes hand-in-hand with the shake-up of the healthcare and social welfare sectors.

The 23-member committee includes MPs from all eight parties in the legislature, including a number of former party chairs and ex-ministers.

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