FRENCH DOCTORS NEGOTIATE ON HEALTHCARE CUTS

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French health fund organisations and medical unions have began discussions concerning the government's plans to reduce health spending in 2006. Doctors in the country have appealed for the proposed reduction in treatment and prescription fees to be re-evaluated.

The National Union of Health Funds is calling for stringent savings to be made on drug prescriptions, while only agreeing to the lowest possible increase in medical fees. The government is hoping to restrict outpatient spending growth to less than 1% as it battles to reduce France's EUR8.3bn (US$9.98bn) health budget deficit to EUR6.1bn (US$7.34bn) by 2006.

However, doctors claim that by concentrating solely on their fees they are being unfairly targeted and that other healthcare professionals are being ignored. They have gone on to state that it is "imperative" that doctors' fees rise, fuelling fears that they may consider some form of strike action.

Meanwhile, negotiations are continuing over access to certain specialists under a new system -- launched in 2005 -- that requires each patient to have a single general practitioner. Previously, patients were entitled to visit as many specialists as they desired. Health professionals estimate the reformed regime will achieve up to EUR1bn (US$1.23bn) of savings in treatment and prescribing costs.