Operations likely to be cancelled as German hospital doctors strike

Scheduled operations at around 460 German hospitals are likely to be cancelled on Thursday after the Marburger Bund called on doctors to go on strike.

An empty bed lies in the corridor of a hospital in Munich.
An empty bed lies in the corridor of a hospital in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

The strikes are taking place in around 460 hospitals across the entire country, with the exception of Berlin and Hamburg. 

“Scheduled operations will not be able to take place in most municipal hospitals today,” said Marburger Bund president Susanne Johna told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) on Thursday. “We are of course maintaining emergency services in these hospitals that are on strike.”

According to Johna, staffing in these hospitals is likely to be similar to weekend levels. 

The doctors are fighting for an improvement in their working conditions and hours, which they say have become worse throughout the pandemic. 

“The working conditions in hospitals are so bad in some places that many doctors leave the hospital and, for example, set up their own practice or go to work as employees in a medical care centre,” Johna told RND.

In the struggle to find an acceptable work-life balance, many doctors in Germany are opting for “80 percent” contracts that allow them to work fewer hours, the Marburger Bund president claimed. 

READ ALSO: German hospital workers poised to strike in wage dispute

“This means that colleagues are giving up a chunk of their salary in order to be guaranteed at least one day off per week,” she said.

The pandemic has exacerbated tough conditions for doctors, in particular on intensive care wards, emergency wards and infection wards. 

“In many intensive care units, patient care was recently only possible because doctors also took on nursing duties and worked even more overtime.”

The Marburger Bund is calling for approximately 55,000 doctors to receive a 5.5 percent pay rise over the course of a year, as well as strict upper limits on the number of times a doctors can be “on call” while not on duty. This should be capped at 12 per month, the association argues.

As a counter offer, employers have offered a pay rise of 3.3 percent in two stages. 

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German health insurance costs set to rise next year

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wants to raise additional contributions for statutory health insurance organisations in 2023.

German health insurance costs set to rise next year

The move means that the millions of people who have statutory health insurance (GKV) in Germany will likely face a significant rise in additional contributions next year. 

Health Minister Lauterbach (SPD) said on Tuesday the additional contributions would rise by 0.3 percentage points to 1.6 per cent.

If the increase goes ahead as planned, it could mean top earners with statutory health insurance would have to pay up to €87 extra per year, and average earners (bringing in around €4,000 gross per month) around €72 more, according to a calculation by German daily Bild

At the moment the cost of statutory public health insurance in Germany amounts to 14.6 percent of gross income. For employees, the employer pays half of the contribution rate.

READ ALSO: How can I change my health insurance provider in Germany?

The health insurance funds can levy additional contributions. The average additional contribution rate is is calculated annually by the Health Ministry and based on the projected expenses of health insurers. 

The average is 1.3 percent for 2022, but varies from fund to fund. If the additional contribution now rises to an average of 1.6 per cent, the health insurance overall contribution rate will exceed 16 percent of people’s wages for the first time.

Why are the additional contributions rising?

Lauterbach said statutory health insurance organisations are facing a deficit of about €17 billion next year. 

The Health Minister said in a tweet: “Unfortunately, the contribution rate has to increase by 0.3. The deficit is too large: €17 billion.”

He added that pharmaceutical industry was “making the biggest solidarity contribution” because their “turnover increased very strongly”.

The government hopes that the increase of the additional contribution will generate additional revenue for the health insurance funds of almost €5 billion.

Health insurance organisations will also receive a further federal subsidy – i.e. tax money – of €2 billion, to a total of €16.5 billion, plus a loan of €1 billion.

Meanwhile, there are also plans for a one-off solidarity levy of €1 billion from pharmaceutical companies, and another €3 billion is planned to be saved through efficiency improvements.

“I have essentially inherited this deficit from my predecessor,” Lauterbach said, referring to former Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU). 

Lauterbach’s proposal will now be voted on by the ministries. Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) has already agreed to the plans.

Several health insurance organisations recently increased their contribution rates, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic began.


Additional contributions (die) Zusatzbeiträge

Steigen – to increase

Additional revenue – (die) Mehreinnahmen

Statutory public health insurance – (die) Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung

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