President promises partial bailout of deficit-ridden Caja

President Laura Chinchilla went on nationwide television Wednesday night to promise that the central government would expedite its payment to shore up the financially faltering Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

Ms. Chinchilla warned that some medical services, including maternity were not sustainable.

The president said that the central government agreed Wednesday to transfer 85 billion colons, some $169 million to the Caja this year to offset the greater part of the agency’s deficit.

The central government owes more than that, but the Ministerio de Hacienda has been in negotiations with Caja officials with the goal of paying some but not all.

A.M. Costa Rica reported earlier this month on the financial problems, mainly because all foreign residents are now required to affiliate with the government health and pension provider.

The Caja’s employee union estimated that the central government is behind 1 trillion colons or about $2 billion.

The union still plans to begin a long-term strike Tuesday,
although there may be some modifications in the wake of Ms. Chinchilla’s 8 p.m. speech.

The Caja runs the public hospitals and the many clinics that are the first-level health providers for most Costa Rican.

The central government said that 54 billion colons of the money going to the Caja are for reimbursements for health services for individuals who cannot pay and received services even though they were not enrolled. The government also has promised to make more payments next year. The Caja is an independent institution, but the top-level staff are political appointees.

Ms. Chinchilla did not have any answers for the long-term financial health of the agency, but she asked the Caja board of directors to set up a study commission. The Panamerican Health Organization is expected to submit a report on the Caja soon.

The president also made a pitch for passage of her administration’s proposal for new taxes, including a 14 percent value added tax that is languishing in the legislature. She said the central government was having financial problems, too.

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