Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said a 5-euro fee to access state hospitals had been scrapped and 4,500 healthcare workers would be hired, the latest move by his leftist government to ease what it calls a humanitarian crisis in the country.
The move is likely to further endear Tsipras to austerity-weary Greeks but represents yet another potential outlay by the cash-strapped government at a time when its European and IMF lenders are demanding a commitment to fiscal rigour.
Still, the abolition of the 5 euro fee for hospital visits would hurt the budget by less than 20 million euros annually and the health workers are expected to be hired without running afoul of Greece's pledge to trim the public sector.
"We want to turn the health sector from a victim of the bailouts, a victim of austerity, into a fundamental right for every resident of this country and we commit to do so at any cost," Tsipras said, adding he would fight "barbaric conditions" in public hospitals and corruption in the sector.
His government would unify data systems as part of measures to boost transparency and save money, he said, in a nod to a longtime demand from international lenders.
In a package of reforms sent to lenders on Wednesday, Greece said it planned comprehensive healthcare reform with the universal right to quality healthcare. It cited a fiscal impact of 2.1-2.7 billion euros without specifying if that represented outlays or potential revenues from tackling corruption.
Greece spends 11 billion euros a year on its public healthcare system - accounting for about 5 percent of its total economic output, which Tsipras said represented the lowest level of health spending among EU countries.
Years of deep cuts in health spending have hurt standards of care in Greece's state hospitals where there is often a shortage of basic supplies while fewer doctors and nurses look after more patients, an increasing number of whom are uninsured.
About 2.5 million Greeks have no health insurance, Tsipras said. Health officials caution that despite the worsening conditions in the sector, most Greeks are able to access the health system without insurance.
"All citizens, after this terrifying crisis, should have access to healthcare irrespective of whether they have insurance or not," Tsipras said.
"We will not tolerate the exploitation of human pain."