YEREVAN—The Armenian government has approved a proposal to provide free universal health coverage to all Armenians under 18 years of age. The government has allocated 12 billion drams ($25 million) from the state budget to cover expenses for the program.
According to the Health Ministry, some 200,000 children and teenagers will now be covered by state health insurance. Previously, the state only covered medical expenses for children under seven years old, orphans or children living with disabilities. Health Minister Arsen Torosyan, who spearheaded the bill, argued on Facebook that “there is no logical reason to cover a six year-old, but not a seven year-old.”
The Armenian government will also set aside three billion AMD ($6.2 million) to improve the medical system’s cancer detection and treatment procedures with an updated comprehensive cancer control cycle. A portion of these funds will cover cancer and stroke patients as well. These treatments were previously only partially covered by the state.
In a recent interview with the Armenian Weekly, Minister Torosyan revealed that his Ministry had prioritized early detection and treatment for preventable illnesses. According to a spokesperson from the Ministry, the new program will reduce cancer-related mortality rates. The World Health Organization shows that Armenia currently ranks second globally for cancer-related deaths.
The Cabinet also green-lit a 25 percent minimum wage hike from 55,000 AMD ($113) to 68,000 AMD ($140). My Step faction MPs Babken Tunyan and Varazdat Karapetyan initially called on the government to raise the minimum wage to 63,000 AMD ($130) back in June. However, this number was later increased before the final bill was approved.
“We landed on this number by applying a social-inclusive minimum wage calculation formula, which took into consideration average worker wages and family poverty,” explained Deputy Labor Minister Gemafin Gasparyan. He said this new minimum wage will offset the minimum purchasing power, which stands at 63,550 AMD.
At least 90 thousand workers across Armenia earn minimum wage, according to the Ministry of Labor. The minimum monthly salary had increased at least three times since 2013 when it stood at 35,000 AMD ($75).
The minimum wage hike and increased healthcare spending come a week after Parliament voted a controversial tax overhaul package into law. Critics, including the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), worry that a new flat income tax scheme will shift the budgetary burden on lower income earners and push more people into poverty.
The Cabinet’s decision to raise the minimum wage might be part of an attempt to mitigate any negative impact on low-income earners. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan expressed his hope that the increased salaries would help alleviate some of the socioeconomic issues which plague the country’s most vulnerable.
Finance minister Atom Janjughazyan, on the other hand, warned that the move could add to the country’s sovereign debt burden.