With around 7,000 practices in Berlin in total, the 2,000 closed practices represent just under a third of all doctor offices in the city. Last week, patients at these practices with appointments scheduled for Wednesday, September 7th received phone calls telling them to rebook for another day.
The temporary closure is part of a mass protest against a new federal draft law from federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD). If passed, Lauterbach’s plan would cancel the “new patient” regulation passed in 2019. That law tried to make it easier for incoming patients to get appointments—by giving additional financial incentives to doctors willing to take on new patients.
To help control costs, German law limits the number of consultation hours or patient appointments a doctor gets paid for by the public health insurance funds (Krankenkassen). Before 2019, this cap stood at 20 consultation hours a week. The new patient regulation raised this cap to 25 hours and made extra money available to doctors taking new patients.
Lauterbach now wants to cancel this due to the financial strain Covid-19 put on Germany’s health system. If he does so, the cap will go back down to 20 hours and the extra money for new patient care will end, reducing the number of available appointments patients can book.
Kassenärztliche Vereinigung (KV) Berlin — an association of doctors covered by German public health insurers — called for the protest, arguing that the situation was already dire in the capital. Many doctor practices in Berlin are already turning new patients away, while at some offices, appointments need to be made weeks or even a month in advance.
KV Berlin says Lauterbach’s plans will only make that worse. “Medical care for new patients in particular would quite possible be limited again,” KV Berlin said in a statement, adding that new patients would probably find it even harder to find new practices or get timely appointments.
Patients needing emergency care on September 7th were asked to seek it directly from KV Berlin or to visit the emergency room at their nearest hospital.