Prescribed drugs list to be axed by start of 2005

By February 2005, the list of prescribed medicines available to state-insured patients will be abolished in favor of a more flexible and less costly system, according to a major revamp of the drug distribution system announced by Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis yesterday. The list, which Kaklamanis had criticized as a logistical and bureaucratic failure when he took office in March, identifies which medicines can be prescribed by doctors and, consequently, covered by social security funds. In a draft bill, which he will put before Parliament at the start of next year, Kaklamanis proposes doing away with the list and allowing patients access to all medicines, barring self-improvement therapies such as those related to slimming or smoking. Until now, people who needed access to a medicine that was not on the prescribed list had to obtain a special certificate from their doctor so they could have part of the drug’s cost covered by their social security fund. The list of prescription drugs was adopted in Greece in 1998 to curb pharmaceutical expenditure, which was rising due to an aging population, broader pharmaceutical coverage of various social groups, changes in living standards, the emergence of new diseases and developments in medical science. However, the list made little impact; in 1997, drugs spending totalled 1.1 billion euros but by 2002 it had reached over 1.8 billion. Currently, the list includes 83 percent of the drugs for which applications have been submitted, but red tape in the inclusion procedure results in many new drugs being left out (some 600 at the moment). The proposed law also does away with the process whereby patients have to queue up to get their prescriptions re-checked by their social security fund before being able to recover their outlay. The bureaucracy involved in this method often forces people to pay for medicines out of their own pocket. The new system will be computerized and records will be automatically cross-checked. Experts say that some 60 percent of pharmacies in Attica have the requisite technology already in place. The bill also allows private pharmacies to sell «high-cost» drugs such as those used in AIDS and cancer therapy, which until now were only available in state hospitals. Under the new law, the proportion of the medicine’s cost paid by the patient will stay the same. This percentage is set by the particular social security fund to which the patient belongs and will remain unchanged by the revamp. Meanwhile, Kaklamanis also announced that a three-month pilot scheme aimed at restructuring the times during which Athens hospitals are on emergency duty will begin on Monday. The scheme’s ultimate goal is to tackle the problem of overcrowding with measures such as allowing major hospitals in the capital to receive patients for emergency treatment between 8 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. every day.