Government seeks ways to contain soaring health costs

Government officials and heads of Greece’s four biggest social security funds met yesterday to consider how to keep a lid on soaring health expenditures and decided to set up a coordinating body that will integrate the four funds’ different practices and seek to enter into contracts with both the public and private health sectors. (Less than a year after the government passed legislation enacting only modest changes in the social security system, while claiming to have ensured the system’s solvency until at least the year 2032, this move is a first indication that spending must be urgently contained if the system’s solvency is to be maintained.) The meeting was attended by Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, Labor and Social Security Minister Dimitris Reppas, Health Minister Costas Stefanis, four deputy ministers, Cabinet Secretary Socrates Cosmidis and the four directors of the largest social security funds – the Social Security Foundation (IKA), the Merchants’ Fund, the Farmers’ Insurance Fund and the Civil Servants’ Social Insurance and Health Fund. These four funds account for 95 percent of participants in social security schemes. The participants decided to set up a coordinating committee for the management of health services provided by the four funds. It was decided that the committee will be headed by Deputy Labor Minister Rovertos Spyropoulos. The four funds will coordinate their activities in three ways. First, they will seek to improve their members’ access to public hospitals, private diagnostic centers and private clinics; second, to monitor the prescription and administration of medicines; and third, to monitor their members’ treatment in private hospitals. A means to ensure prompt access of fund members to hospitals is already up and running. IKA has established a three-digit number through which appointments can be made. This number will eventually serve members of the other funds. For the moment, a pilot program for members of the Merchants’ Fund will begin in Thessaloniki. Soon, members of the farmers’ fund will be able to make appointments at IKA units during the afternoon hours. To better monitor medical prescriptions, all the funds will gradually enter their activities into IKA’s computerized database. The Health Ministry has undertaken to put a bar code on all medicines by the end of the year. (Administration of medicines has long been a thorny issue, since Greeks typically consume more medicines than other Europeans. Besides the considerable costs involved, there are suspicions of widespread misuse of the system, with doctors subscribing medicines produced by companies with which they have established ties – this is an even bigger problem in the private health sector – and patients, especially immigrants, managing to get prescriptions for a range of medicines, only for these medicines to find their way into the immigrant’s country of origin and sold there.) «This is a first step in the process of restructuring health provisions,» Christodoulakis declared after the meeting.