Analysis of the Austrian Election

by Jonas Wolframm
An analysis of the possible effect of the Austrian election on the Healthcare policy agenda

As Austria heads for a coalition between the Austrian People´s Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), we take a closer look at the possible health policy agenda of a black-blue government

The result of the Austrian election on Sunday should earn Sebastian Kurz, former Foreign Minister and rising star of the Austrian People´s Party (ÖVP) the position of chancellor, making him Europe´s youngest head of government. Kurz led the conservatives to a convincing win, gaining 31,5 percent of the vote, up 7,5 percent compared to four years ago. The question is now with whom the future chancellor will cooperate to form a coalition government.

In general, Kurz has two options albeit one is a lot more realistic than the other: Firstly, the 31-year-old party leader could lead the ÖVP into an alliance with the right-wing nationalist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) which won 26 percent of the vote. Secondly, Kurz could cooperate with the Social Democrats (SPÖ) who came in second with 27 percent. However, due to fierce mudslinging during the campaign and a personal antipathy with some leading figures of the SPÖ a coalition between ÖVP and SPÖ seems highly unlikely at this point.

Aside from personal issues, an alliance with the FPÖ is also much likelier than one with the SPÖ as there are more overlapping points regarding policy between the conservatives and the nationalists. Although from a historical perspective, coalitions between the FPÖ and the ÖVP have not worked out well, this time could be different. Judging from their manifestos and their campaigns both parties have policy wise come closer to each other.

Having said that, the upcoming coalition talks will not be a sure-fire success as some critical issues remain. For example, the FPÖ has already publicly demanded the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a department the ÖVP does not want to give up. Other difficult issues are the anti-EU stance of the FPÖ as well as her desire to join the Visegrad Group, which includes the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland.

Health policy agenda

Although, health policy is not likely to play a major role in the upcoming coalition talks a closer look at the policy field is worthwhile.

Firstly, it will be interesting to see who is going to control the Ministry of Health and Women´s Affairs. Currently, the Ministry is led by Pamela Rendi-Wagner of the SPÖ. However, until now neither of both parties has shown particular interest in taking over the Ministry.

Regarding policy goals, both parties pursue better pay and working conditions for professionals working within the health sector. Against the backdrop of an aging society, a reform of the current policy framework in the field of care will be necessary within the upcoming legislation period.

As for the general structure and organization of the Austrian healthcare system, both parties advocate comprehensive reform of the statutory health insurance system. Currently, the Austrian statutory health insurance is made up of 22 different social insurance agencies, a number both parties deem too high. In its manifesto, the ÖVP has vowed to minimize the number of insurances to reduce inefficiencies and harmonize available services.

Reducing inefficiencies within the healthcare sector is also an objective shared by the FPÖ but the party goes one step further, demanding the introduction of only one insurance for everybody with a unitary catalog of services. Although both parties differ in their approach, the direction is clear. A black-blue coalition could cause a serious consolidation of the Austrian statutory health insurance system.

Another major healthcare issue of the upcoming four years will be prevention. Especially the ÖVP has advertised the expansion of prevention measures to reduce costs in the long term. To do so the party seeks to offer financial incentives to citizens who regularly undergo medical check-ups or take part in certain prevention programs.

An area of concern which will surely be in the focus of a new government is the shortage of general practitioners in rural areas as well education of medical professionals. To cushion effects of the dwindling number of general practitioners the ÖVP has vowed to strengthen cross-linking between the ambulant and the stationary sector. 

Other topics which could be brought up are the digitalization of the healthcare sector, abortion, reimbursement of natural remedies and vaccination.

Next steps

On Friday, the Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen is expected to instruct Kurz to form a government. The ÖVP leader will then initiate talks with possible coalition partners. The constituting session of the parliament is scheduled for the 9th November.

If you wish to receive updates on the forthcoming Austrian coalition negotiations and staffing decisions in parliament and government or are interested in further information on RPP-Services please get in contact with us via j.wolframm@rpp-group.com. If you are interested in updates on German policy developments you can sign up for our German Election Newsletter here.