LÜBECK (dpa-AFX) - Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach expects the controversial hospital reform between the federal and state governments to be launched at the turn of the year. He is "absolutely confident that we will have the reform online by January 25", said the SPD Minister on Thursday at the end of the conference of state health ministers in the seaside resort of Travemünde in Lübeck. A very constructive discussion was also taking place with the parliamentary groups.

He once again emphasized the value of the hospital reform for rural areas. "If we didn't carry out the hospital reform, we would have an extreme situation for many hospitals in rural areas as early as next year." Lauterbach is convinced that hospitals in rural areas can be maintained thanks to the package of guarantee surcharges, surcharges for emergency care, intensive care, obstetrics, pediatrics and numerous exemptions. In reality, they are much closer together than expected. The reform will therefore be a success, said Lauterbach.

The conference had been surprisingly harmonious and carried by the spirit of solving the problems. The federal government agreed with many of the states' demands regarding the hospital reform. This will be taken into account in the parliamentary process that is now beginning, the Minister assured.

Kerstin von der Decken (CDU), Chairwoman of the Conference of Health Ministers, said that the states were not interested in delaying the procedure in the Bundesrat. It depends on whether corresponding amendments find a majority in the Bundestag, said the Schleswig-Holstein Health Minister. "If all our demands are accepted, no problem," she said. However, in her view, it is neither sensible nor responsible to pass such a law without having an impact analysis available.

A core element of the hospital reform is the move away from flat rates per case for treatment. Instead, there are to be flat rates for certain services in future. Hospitals would therefore have a kind of guarantee of existence even if they provide comparatively few treatments.

According to the chairwoman, the conference discussed a total of more than 50 proposals. The topics discussed included a shortage of specialists, undersupply and drug shortages. All participants agreed on the need to speed up the recognition procedure for foreign doctors. With regard to pharmaceuticals, the federal government is being asked to change the framework conditions in such a way that local supply can be guaranteed by owner-operated local pharmacies.

In order to reduce Germany's dependence on medicines from suppliers outside the EU, the financing of generics should be adjusted so that production in Germany and Europe is worthwhile again. Unnecessary bureaucracy should be reduced.

After Schleswig-Holstein, Thuringia will take over the chairmanship of the Conference of Health Ministers. Thuringia's Health Minister Heike Werner (Left Party) has already invited her counterparts from the federal and state governments to Weimar next June. "It is quite clear that the major reform projects at federal level will continue to occupy us."/moe/DP/mis