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President Michelle Bachelet orders free hospital care for Chileans over 60
The Associated Press
SANTIAGO, Chile – Newly inaugurated President Michelle Bachelet said Monday that all Chileans older than 60 will immediately begin receiving free care at public hospitals.
"This will become effective immediately," the Socialist physician said at a news conference. "This is possible because it does not require a law."
The benefit would be for those at least 60 who are registered with the federal insurance system known as Fonasa, Health Minister Maria Soledad Barria told Santiago daily La Segunda. The paper estimated more than 300,000 people would be eligible.
According the last national census in 2002, 1.7 million people of Chile's 16 million people are older than 60. But there was no immediate word on how the Bachelet's program would affect the older Chileans not linked to Fonasa or if they could now join.
An official at the ministry's press office said more details would be announced Tuesday.
In her first full working day as Chile's first female president, Bachelet stressed that her government will give priority to social issues. She also announced plans to increase the lowest pensions earned by Chileans, and to grant government pensions to elderly citizens who lack an income and to those who cannot work because of physical problems.
She said the level of pension benefits will depend on the funds available, which the Finance Ministry is studying.
Bachelet, who is considered somewhat more to the left than her fellow Socialist predecessor Ricardo Lagos, said that she aims to implement "a nationwide social protection network" by the end of her four-year term.
She said she had appointed Mario Marcel, a socialist economist and former budget director, to head a commission to reform Chile's pioneer private social security system. No details have been available on the changes she plans to the system, which was implemented in the early 1980s under the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
"Our country's economic situation allows us to continue to grow, and our goal is to make sure that benefits of that growth reach all Chileans," she said.
"Inequities begin at the crib, when not all children have the same opportunities," she said. "Because of this, I want to start my government with a clear signal that we want to promote conditions of equality for everybody," she said.
She promised to create 800 new state-funded nursery schools during her four-year term to benefit 25,000 more infants.
The president also confirmed her plans to develop a foreign policy focusing on relations with Latin American countries and stressing efforts to increase regional integration. She said she will make brief visits to Argentina and Uruguay next week.
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