Health, housing hard to afford

It is generally accepted that the greatest and most outrageous price increases in recent years have been in services – health, education and housing costs are what rouse consumers’ anger the most. «I recently went to an ear, nose and throat specialist for a hearing problem and he charged me 70 euros for an ordinary consultation. I am sure that just two or three years ago we would have paid the same person no more than 10-15,000 drachmas, that is, 35-40 euros,» said Triandafyllos Papageorgopoulos, 42. «It is the same with pediatricians, where fees have climbed from 30-35 euros for a regular check-up to 40 euros last year and 50 this year. I find it incomprehensible, I can’t see what has changed in science within three years to make doctors raise their fees so much.» Doctors themselves recognize there is a problem. Dr Giorgos Patoulis, head of the Association of Self-Employed Doctors of Attica and board member of the Athens Medical Association, said that family doctors’ fees should be within «reasonable limits of the time and based on his vocation as a doctor.» «So we condemn exploitation when and where it occurs. Nevertheless, it is clear that there have not been major increases in medical consultations, but in medical treatment (such as gastroscopy) and laboratory tests. We ourselves have observed this, for example an MRI scan, which a few years ago cost the equivalent of 180 euros, now costs 440 euros but that is because of the long waiting lists and state bureaucracy, resulting in more people going private. And there it is the businessman, not the doctor, who has the last word. That is why we say doctors in private practice should be able to control prices through the medical associations and, for organized health services, there should be a private body with rules and principles, alongside a strong state sector.» Rents skyrocketing Rents are also skyrocketing in many places. Antonis Verdesis, 54, has a daughter who is studying in Athens. «In September, we nearly went mad trying to rent an apartment for her. I don’t think it is reasonable to ask 450 euros a month for a two-room flat in Kato Patissia, or 350 euros for a one-room flat in Exarchia. I don’t know who they are aiming at. We finally found an old apartment in Acharnon for 300 euros, a last resort, as it is a neighborhood where even we are afraid to walk at night,» he said. Maria and Costas Constantinou, a young couple, have a similar story to tell. «We got married recently and, in contrast to most people, we did not get a housing loan, though I think we will have to do that eventually, as it is impossible to pay rent and keep a home running, even on two wages,» they said. The problem with rents is chiefly with smaller apartments. Nikos Yiannoulelis, a property management consultant, said rents have risen only on apartments of less than 80 square meters. There are many reasons. First of all, there is not much demand for their purchase, only to rent them. Secondly, contractors are no longer building small apartments because they cost more to build. At the same time, demand is higher, especially since the number of students has tripled since 2001. Demand is greater than supply,» he said. On the other hand, rents for larger apartments have fallen. «After 2000, when interest rates on housing loans fell and thousands of people bought their own homes, rents naturally fell to below the cost of a monthly mortgage payment.»