Liberal backlash forces coalition to rethink health insurance plan


The new Dutch government, elected in September and sworn in just a week ago, is being forced to renegotiate a key element of its coalition deal after a major backlash from supporters of prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal Party.

Crisis talks between the Liberals and their new coalition partners, Labour, began last Thursday night in an attempt to undo, or at least modify, a plan to link health insurance premiums to income, before the first parliamentary debate on the programme for government tomorrow.

A poll a week ago rang the first alarm bells, showing the largest-yet drop in support for a new government in such a short period. An extraordinary 56 per cent of Liberal supporters said they believed Mr Rutte had “betrayed” them by agreeing the changes, aimed at saving €5 billion.

Since then, opposition to the changes, which critics say would hit middle-income families hardest, has continued to grow – with additional controversy over the fact that, unlike Labour, which held a special conference, Mr Rutte did not put the deal to his party’s rank and file.

Relations between the two parties have not been helped by Labour’s chairman, Hans Spekman, who told his conference that the new health premiums should be “celebrated” as a long-awaited means of “equalising incomes” – confirming many Liberals in their view that they had been outmanoeuvred.

“While the new coalition agreement will change a lot of people’s lives, reducing the difference in incomes between rich and poor is the most important aspect,” Mr Spekman said.

The coalition does not have a majority in the senate, and Mr Rutte’s position – after what has been described as “the worst blunder of his political career” – was made worse over the weekend when opposition leaders said they would block the changes in the upper house.

All the indications now are that the plan to link health premiums to income may be abandoned altogether – to be replaced by targeted increases in income tax.