Bulgarian Health Minister Anna-Maria Borisova abruptly quit her post today as the country’s healthcare system lurches toward crisis. Borisova gave no explanation for her resignation, which caught many members of the ruling Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) off guard. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov (no relation) accepted her decision.

 

  • Bulgarians have grown dissatisfied with Borisova’s performance after just six months on the job. Doctors are planning nationwide protests for October 15 over inadequate financing for the health system and a freeze on salaries. Borisova’s proposed “Concept for Healthcare 2010–2015” envisions raising co-payments for certain medical services by 20%. The former health minister also raised tempers by proposing to supplement the existing National Health Care Fund with an additional state insurance body.
  • Tensions between Borisova and Borisov were already palpable. Last week, Borisova announced plans to raise the medical co-pays, but failed to clarify exactly which services would be subject to the higher rates. Following a public outcry, the prime minister beat a hasty retreat: He denied that any plan to raise co-payments by 20% exists.
  • Borisova’s resignation also comes a day after former Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev called the first-ever no-confidence vote against Borisov’s administration over its handling of healthcare. The motion will be co-sponsored by Stanishev’s Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the ethnic Turkish-based Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), the two biggest opponents of GERB’s rule.

 

Commentary:

  • There may be a number of reasons behind Borisova’s resignation, but it has all the earmarks of a sacking. Prime Minister Borisov may have given her the boot in an effort to thwart the opposition’s no-confidence vote. It may also be a sign that the prime minister wants to abandon unpopular reforms in the healthcare and social-security sectors in favor of populist measures that will shore up his personal popularity.
  • Borisova’s resignation may be a tacit admission that GERB is unable to cope with the sheer weight of problems in the healthcare sector. This is the second time a health minister has stepped down since GERB took power in July 2009: Borisov sacked his first healthcare chief, Bozhidar Nanev, last March, claiming he was “too soft on carrying out reforms.” (Nanev had also been charged with irresponsible handling of public funds in relation to procuring flu drugs at inflated prices.)  
  • The Bulgarian public will likely remember former Health Minister Borisova as an eccentric figure who got her job almost by accident: She met the PM at a highway crossroads and was appointed as minister after a half-hour discussion. Borisova also made headlines when she sang a song about the benefits of regular milk consumption for reporters.
  • It is clear that the autumn political season will be a “hot” one for GERB. Prime Minister Borisov is facing mass protests against his painful but necessary austerity measures. He will no longer be able to bang the drum of his favorite topic, the fight against organized crime, for which he has received high marks. Borisov will have no choice but to take firm stands on thorny issues such as healthcare, employment and social benefits. His popularity is bound to take a hit.