Jens Spahn is currently doing a lot of work. His crisis management in the pandemic has long been criticized, whether it is about testing or vaccination, the procurement of protective equipment or the corona rescue packages. The health minister just got caught in the fire because test centers are said to have cheated and because his department allegedly wanted to give inferior mouth and nose protection to marginalized groups. Now the next allegations are in the house: The free issue of protective masks by pharmacies was hasty and overpriced, according to the Federal Audit Office. In addition, the federal government was far too willing to distribute tax money in the clinic protective umbrella and in the procurement of intensive care beds and did not adequately control the use.
It's about huge sums of money. The pharmacists received 2.1 billion euros, around 100,000 euros per pharmacy. The hospitals received 10.2 billion euros as compensation for postponed or canceled treatments in order to keep enough places for Covid 19 patients. And new intensive care beds were subsidized for 700 million euros, some of which, however, according to the allegation, do not even exist; many of the 13,700 additional beds are considered undetectable.
The new doubts about Spahn's cost management have a different quality than previous allegations.
This time they do not come from the (social) media and also not from political opponents in the opposition or in social democracy.
They are also not due to the election campaign.
Rather, they are based on information from one control instance for another: The Federal Audit Office has sent the budget committee of the Bundestag, as it is called in official German, "an advisory report on the examination of selected corona-related expenditure items of Section 15 and the health fund".
It had to be done quickly
The Federal Audit Office is a supreme federal authority, but it is not subordinate to the government. As an independent financial control body that checks the accounts as well as the efficiency and correctness of the federal budget, the institution is only subject to the law. Parliament also has no right to issue instructions to the Federal Audit Office; it can only ask it for audits. To a certain extent, the authority stands outside of the three powers and for that very reason enjoys great independence and a high reputation.
What should be made of the criticism of the Court of Auditors? The Federal Ministry of Health is certainly right in its defense that the protection programs had to be set up quickly in view of the rapidly spreading disease wave. It has been seen in testing and vaccination: delays not only bring displeasure to politicians, every idle day endangers human life in particular. In times of crisis, there is simply no time for lengthy deliberations. That is why there are massive misallocations, deadweight effects, and fraudsters have an easy game.
Another argument from Spahn's house is also correct.
In the past year, the federal states have proven often enough that their influence in the fight against and prevention of the pandemic acted as a brake rather than an accelerator.
Actually, they should have taken on the issue of masks for older and previously ill citizens.
But this would probably have resulted in many individual regulations, in the worst case 16 different ones, the matter would have taken time, and whether it would have become safer and cheaper is also doubtful.
Expensive phantom beds
So the Ministry of Health brings up some good points, and yet the Federal Court of Auditors’s criticism is justified on the whole. This is especially true because there have been many warnings about the protection and aid programs - and suggestions as to how the organization could have run better. The health insurance companies had expressed concerns, the private insurance companies, the Federal Joint Committee, the Robert Koch Institute, and last but not least, there were early press reports about expensive "phantom beds" in the German intensive care units.
The accusation that Spahn and his house did not react or intervene at all would be wrong. The free bonuses, for example, were adjusted several times when it became clear that some clinics were bumping into it. But here too, well-intentioned was not done well. Since the latest new regulation, hospitals only receive compensation payments if less than a quarter of all intensive care beds in the region are empty. However, this apparently led to the number of vacancies being artificially calculated downwards.
This hospital hoax is not only costly to taxpayers, it also has an impact on the pandemic assessment and lockdown. Because the vacant intensive care and ventilation places reported to the DIVI central register are decisive for the assessment of the situation, for the behavior of the population and also for how strict the state and federal policy defines the corona restrictions.
The federal government and above all the responsible minister Jens Spahn (CDU) have to face the justified criticism of the audit office. They have to admit mistakes and draw conclusions, for example by checking the ongoing protection and compensation programs more thoroughly than before. The long-term care rescue fund is due to be extended soon, the scope and structure of which has been criticized considerably, as the vaccination coverage in care homes is much higher than in the rest of the population.
Above all, however, it must be investigated which institutions have violated the applicable accounting and reporting regulations. Providing incorrect (intensive) bed numbers is not a trivial offense, it is fraud and therefore a criminal offense. The misery uncovered by the Court of Auditors should therefore not only have political consequences, but also legal consequences.