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French Version

NSSF faces collapse due to budget deficit

Government owes fund $114 million

Lebanon's National Social Security Fund (NSSF) may collapse if the government fails to cover the large deficit soon. "The NSSF may not be able to provide medical services to its beneficiaries if the government doesn't come up with sufficient funds to cover the deficit," a statement by the NSSF's board of directors said after a meeting Thursday.

They added that over the past two months the NSSF has made no payments to hospitals because it did not have sufficient cash.

Maurice Abu Nader, president of the NSSF, told The Daily Star that the deficit is LL172 billion ($114 million), adding that the Finance Ministry has paid only LL50 billion.

"We must get the LL172 billion as soon as possible to resume our services to beneficiaries," he said.

According to law, the government should cover 25 percent of the entire NSSF medical bill.

He added that the NSSF owes hospitals about LL400 billion in outstanding payments.

More than 1.5 million Lebanese are covered by the NSSF and most of these people are in the private sector.

But Finance Minister Jihad Azour recently said that the had ministry transferred LL290 billion ($193 million) to the NSSF in 2005.

He added that the ministry is meeting all its obligations to EDL and the NSSF despite the amount of waste in the two sectors.

The NSSF is divided into three areas: Maternity, End of Service Benefits and Health.

The Finance Ministry says that there is a considerable amount of inefficiency in the NSSF and restructuring is needed to rectify this.

It added that the medical bill to the Gross Domestic Product ratio is one of the highest in the world yet citizens are not receiving quality treatment.

But Abu Nader denied these allegations, stressing that the NSSF cannot continue to operate without sufficient funds.

"We have made lot of reforms. The NSSF has stopped dealing with four hospitals and suspended many doctors who faked medical bills," he said.

"The Finance Ministry makes a big fuss every time it pays us money. This is the duty of the government to pay its share of NSSF contributions."

However, the American University Hospital and Arz Hospital told The Daily Star that they are still receiving patients covered by the NSSF.

An official at Arz Hospital said that it accepts all obligatory NSSF beneficiaries, adding that it does not accept those with optional NSSF because there is no contract with them.

Abu Nader said Labor Minister Tarad Hamadeh had promised to raise the issue of the deficit at the next Cabinet meeting.

The government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is expected to introduce a five year plan to cut the deficit and one of the main challenges the Cabinet will face is to reduce costs in the NSSF without affecting services.

Beirut,02 21 2006
Osama Habib
The Daily Star
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