Dutch ruling Labor and liberal party leaders gathered separately in The Hague on Tuesday night for emergency talks after the Senate unexpectedly voted down a critical health reform.
Health minister Edith Schippers — who is tipped as a potential successor to Prime Minister Mark Rutte as liberal party leader — said she was disappointed when the upper chamber rejected her proposal to allow health insurers to limit customers’ hospital choices. The measure was expected to raise efficiency, save the government €1 billion in health-care spending per year and reduce premiums for consumers.
Among the opponents were three Labor Party senators, triggering a crisis in the coalition.
The ruling parties do not command a majority in the Senate. Usually a sleepy constitutional body that can do little more than send legislation back to the lower house, the narrow balance of power there has encouraged opposition parties to try to create division between the main left- and right-wing parties that were forced into a coalition after the 2012 election in the Netherlands.
The government had secured the backing of the liberal Democrats and two small Christian parties for its health reforms, giving it a theoretical one-seat majority.
Other opposition parties are opposed to the measure, meaning it cannot pass without the support of the full Labor Party.
The liberals, who strongly support further liberalization in health care, can ill afford to give in. Their many compromises with Labor have cost them popularity. The latest Ipsos poll shows the liberal party losing thirteen seats out of 41. The more volatile Peil.nl shows them losing fourteen.
Labor does even worse. Ipsos gives the social democrats fifteen seats out of 150. Peil.nl has them at eleven.
The bad poll figures have undermined Labor Party leader Diederik Samsom’s position. Dutch media speculate he will be replaced by the social affairs minister, Lodewijk Asscher, before the next election. Tuesday’s small rebellion in the Senate could raise more questions about Samsom’s leadership.
Both parties are tainted by the perception that they reneged on their promises in order to govern even though the last election delivered no other viable coalition options.
Elections for the Senate are due in March next year. The three dissenting Labor members are expected to retire. The coalition could postpone its reforms until then but that would blow a €1 billion hole in this year’s budget.
Other alternatives include raising deductibles and shrinking the basic package of care that private insurers are legally obligated to offer their customers.
Insurance companies argue there is not enough time for such changes. They have already submitted their new policies ahead of a year-end deadline.
The Dutch are only allowed to change insurance policy at the start of each new year.