Bailout talks focus on health sector, state posts

Discussions between government officials and visiting bailout auditors continued in Athens Thursday with a particular focus on measures aimed at boosting the cost efficiency of Greece’s health sector and appointing general secretaries to ministries amid concerns about political cronyism.

Among the measures pledged by the Health Ministry to Greece’s international creditors is a reduction in the insurance contributions paid by Greeks if they choose generic medicines over costlier branded drugs. The aim of the initiative is to increase the market penetration of cheaper generic drugs and bring down health spending overall. Currently only between 25 and 30 percent of prescribed medicines in Greece are generic while the aim is to push that figure up to 40 percent.

Another point of discussion Thursday was the appointment of general secretaries to Greek ministries over which the leftist-led government has come under strong criticism by the opposition.

Administrative Reform Minister Olga Gerovasili said that Thursday’s discussions with foreign envoys had gone “very well,” noting however that it was not within her remit to raise the issue of delays with the Supreme Council for Personnel Selection (ASEP). According to sources, bailout auditors asked ASEP officials to speed up the process so that the new general secretaries can assume their posts by June, in line with Greece’s bailout commitments.

Another topic that remains unresolved is the outlook for the ENFIA property tax, which leftist SYRIZA had pledged to abolish while in opposition. That, along with the matters of state sell-offs and energy – always contentious – are to be on the table of discussions Friday. There are also disagreements on fiscal matters and labor issues, chiefly arbitration and welfare benefits, that the two sides must work to resolve.

Once Friday’s talks have concluded, foreign envoys are expected to draft a staff-level agreement (SLA) and submit it to Greek officials.

A last round of discussions will yield a final SLA, it is hoped, that will be put before eurozone finance ministers at a summit next Thursday.

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