BEIRUT: Lebanon’s dollar exchange rate crisis is leaving patients unable to pay for hospitalization, as black market rates hit LBP37,000 on Friday.
Doctors, patients, and hospital owners, who protested in the vicinity of government ministries and the central bank in Hamra Street on Thursday, called for the dollar accounts of hospitals and doctors to be liberalized and warned that things were going to get worse.
Red Cross secretary-general, Georges Kettaneh, said it was important to “think more about securing the medications for difficult and chronic diseases because the situation has become very serious.”
He added that Red Cross volunteers sometimes noticed that patients being transported to hospital were in poor condition because they were unable to find the medication they needed.
The health coverage available through social security and other insurance institutions now secures a fraction of medical expenses. It previously covered between 75 and 100 percent of the cost.
Mohammed Karaki, director-general of the National Social Security Fund, said: “Private hospitals insinuating that they might ask patients to pay for the entire hospital bill and collect the amount by themselves later from insurance companies is an inappropriate intimidation.”
Hospitals are protesting their inability to collect funds from banks and, therefore, their inability to provide medical services to insured patients.
“Insurance tariffs and all the other insurance parties can no longer cope with the reality in the current circumstances,” said Karaki. “However, a range of ideas is being contemplated, including the possibility to halt medication provision to focus on hospitalization to secure the real prices so that hospitals don’t charge patients with any difference except as provided by law.”
The ongoing economic crisis is also changing the scene of neighborhoods in Beirut and its suburbs.
Many shops preferred to be in darkness rather than have a generator subscription because they could not cover its cost from declining sales, said one person.
People are having to buy water from private tankers due to outages. But tank owners are charging their customers in dollars due to the cost of gas.
On Thursday and Friday, there were strikes and protests from people in the medical and healthcare sector, patients, public drivers, owners of bakeries and ovens, and security and military contractors, who were protesting about the monetary policy that had brought Lebanon to breaking point.
Hospitals continued their strikes on Friday and suspended all services except for admitting urgent conditions.
Taxi drivers set up roadblocks on the Ring Bridge in the heart of Beirut, blocking intersections between the east and west of the capital, to protest against surging petrol and diesel prices.
These prices exceed the capacity of the general public, leading to additional power outages in households relying on diesel generator subscriptions to ensure minimal lighting.
The monthly bill is now being charged in dollars and is at least $40.
Bakery owners protested in front of the Economy Ministry to demand that wheat be secured for mills and the price for a bread bundle commensurate with the exchange rate.
A middle-sized bread bundle was LBP15,000 on Friday.
“The pricing of the bread bundle was subjected to the high exchange rate of the dollar,” said Antoine Saif, head of the Bakery Owners’ Syndicate in Mount Lebanon.
Gas stations were closed on Friday and the owners’ syndicate called for a protest to demand a radical solution to the current situation because it could no longer afford the heavy losses.
Georges Brax, a spokesperson for the Gas Station Owners’ Syndicate, said that banks kept delaying the payment of the oil-importing companies’ dollar dues, which represented the price of petrol imported according to the Sayrafa platform.
Brax claimed that banks also kept delaying the advance authorizations from the Central Bank, which would result in the continued rationing of gas delivery to the local market by these companies and a decrease in the availability of gas to the consumer at stations, despite the presence of scarce amounts in Lebanese warehouses.
“This will thus prompt the return of the crisis, which is something that no one wants,” he warned.
Talks are being held at the Economic and Social Council's headquarters to study how to improve the incomes of people in the private sector.
Economic entities and the General Labor Union were discussing the erosion of purchasing capacity and living burdens due to the high exchange rate of the dollar, said Mohammed Choucair, head of the Economic Bodies.
He added: “We are heading toward strengthening these incomes.”
The US credit rating agency Fitch has warned that Lebanon's exit from debt default was still difficult after inconclusive parliamentary elections.
In a report, the agency said the current reality further complicated the country's ability to implement financial and economic reforms.