Greece's Economic Mess Fuels a Medical One

Austerity measures aren't painless for poor

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 27, 2011 1:33 PM CST

(Newser) – As Greece's debt crisis mounted and the country looked for austerity measures, its unwieldy and often corruption-riddled universal health care system became a prime target, with spending cut 13%. But that has had dire consequences, the New York Times reports. Public clinics are suddenly overwhelmed, as patients newly unable to afford private clinics flock to them. At the same time, drug companies are refusing to stock Greek hospitals, which owe them millions and are often out of things as basic as toilet paper; and pharmacies are demanding that even insured customers pay the full price of their drugs in cash, wary of seeing any reimbursement from the government.

"The whole system is a mess right now," one doctor says. "In a six-hour shift, I am seeing 40 patients, which is ridiculous." The overflow is affecting patients’ care—one anesthesiologist reports that breast cancer patients are being forced to wait three months to have tumors removed. “Waiting that long can be life or death,” she says. Government officials say they’re aware of the problems, and hope to start addressing them next year—even as the law mandates another $915 million in cuts.

A notice on January 19, 2011 in front of a closed pharmacy in Athens announces the start of a three-day strike by pharmacists.
A notice on January 19, 2011 in front of a closed pharmacy in Athens announces the start of a three-day strike by pharmacists.   (Getty Images/AFP)
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