December 18, 2014 / 8:44 AM / 3 years ago

Dutch PM agrees to change health bill to avoid government collapse

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks during a joint news conference with Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak in Putrajaya November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a letter to parliament late Thursday that his party would revise a health bill that was blocked in the senate, potentially staving off the collapse of his fragile center-right coalition government.

Earlier on Thursday Rutte was forced to pull out of an EU summit to deal with a mounting political crisis over the bill, which has highlighted a deep divide between his Liberal party and the left-of-center Labour, with which he shares power.

Emergency talks throughout the day in The Hague failed to resolve a deadlock triggered by the blocking by coalition allies of a health bill that was submitted by Rutte’s party.

The bill, a core healthcare reform pushed by the Liberals to reduce government spending, was voted against on Tuesday by three senators in the Labour Party, the other coalition partner, leaving Rutte scrabbling to find a compromise.

A debate was scheduled to run into the early hours of Friday morning, but Rutte said in a letter his party would “alter and resubmit the legislation taking into consideration arguments and concerns” raised by the dissident Labour senators.

The bill was aimed at saving the government, midway through a four-year term, 1 billion euros ($1.23 billion) from 2016 by restricting where patients can seek medical treatment.

Patients can now go to hospitals or clinics of their own choice and the insurer reimburses the costs. Under the new law, patients would be limited to medical suppliers with which the insurer has negotiated contracts.

Rutte said in the revised bill would maintain the free choice of doctors and would seek to create a balance between 7patients and insurers.

Health Minister Edith Schippers, from the prime minister’s Liberal VVD party, said the bill would create better, more affordable, healthcare. However, opponents say it will limit the freedom of patients to pick their own doctors.

Rutte’s government has been in power for just over two years after winning snap elections triggered by failed talks with anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders about forming a minority government with his support.

Editing by Alison Williams and Steve Orlofsky

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