“My medicine costs 4,700 euros per month, and I have no insurance.” A carpenter on the island of Lemnos in the northeastern Aegean sums up his situation after a routine medical check revealed he is suffering from leukemia. Looking for a solution, he came across the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Elliniko in southern Athens. He contacted the clinic only to be informed that it had just two boxes of the medicine he needed.
“More and more cancer patients are turning up and asking us to refer them for chemotherapy or radiation therapy – at the Sotiria Hospital’s oncology clinic in Athens, which provides the treatment free of charge to uninsured patients – or to help them get the drugs,” says Giorgos Vichas, a cardiologist who is behind the Elliniko initiative.
For the Lemnos carpenter, two boxes of medicine offer only temporary comfort. Many of the 3 million Greeks who currently have no medical insurance, according to the National Organization for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY), are facing similar challenges. Apart from the cost of medicine, Vichas says, the uninsured are “completely shut out” of primary healthcare while in cases of emergency the law stipulates that they are entitled to free treatment until their life is no longer at risk. “For anything more than that they have to pay, while in practice many hospitals also charge them for emergencies,” Vichas says, adding that if the patient fails to pay the fee, the debt is added to his or her tax bill.
Under these circumstances, demand for the services of the Metropolitan Community Clinic is rising. About 1,200 people visited the clinic in the first nine months of its operation (December-August 2012). A total of 1,425 people visited the clinic last December alone. The hospital is now covering a wider range of needs. Starting with just seven doctors and 15 volunteers, it now employs 100 doctors in all fields and 150 volunteers.
The founding principles of the Elliniko facility have not changed. Donations, which are only in kind, are kept anonymous. The charter also bars the involvement of party officials, “which helps us win the trust of the people,” Vichas says.
Another rule is that the clinic does not take patients who are covered by insurance. But this is changing. “We are taking more and more insured, although our policy has not changed officially,” Vichas says.
Vassilis Danias, 48, has insurance but no money. The former mechanic was forced to quit his job two years ago after he was found to be suffering from endocarditis. After that he tried different jobs, including working as a gardener and stretcher bearer. In late 2012, unemployed and living on benefits from the OAED manpower organization, Danias received an aortic valve replacement. His insurance coverage was extended for a year and he filed the paperwork for a disability pension.
He is still waiting. The country’s Accreditation Center for Disability (KEPA) recently called him for an examination but the appointment was canceled because of a doctors’ strike. For the same reason, he has not received his benefits for two months. This also requires medical certification that needs to be renewed every two months.
Although Danias had social security, he could not cover his share of the cost of medicine, so he turned to the community clinic.
“We paid [our dues] for all those years and now that we are in need we are told that the money is gone and we need to pay again,” Danias says.