Hospital debt a pain

State hospitals ran up a debt of 2.4 billion euros last year, almost five times what they owed in 1997, and are threatening to derail Greece’s fragile national budget, according to figures seen by Sunday’s Kathimerini. There are fears that this mounting debt could create problems for the country’s economy, which just last week exited the European Union’s supervision after the government succeeded in reducing the public deficit to below 3 percent of GDP. In 1997, state hospitals owed the equivalent of some 569 million euros. This figure had risen to 1.05 billion euros in 2001 and reached 3 billion by 2004. After coming to power in March 2004, the New Democracy government paid off some 2 billion euros of debt in 2005. However, since then the state hospital budget has overrun by about 70 percent and the conservative government once again finds itself saddled with a considerable debt. Most of the money is owed to suppliers who sell medicine and equipment to the hospitals. These products, which are usually bought after a tender process, often have a considerable mark-up as the state health sector is notoriously slow in paying its bills and companies factor this cost into their final price. Some 9,000 tenders are held each year in a process that is regarded to be riddled with corrupt practices. The health sector debt will have to be tackled by the government in its 2008 budget. This will mean that cuts will have to be made in other areas, which is going to be a complicated task if 2008 also ends up being an election year. In a poll conducted by VPRC on behalf of Sunday’s Kathimerini, New Democracy extended its lead over PASOK to 4 percent. The survey put the Conservatives on 43 percent – 0.5 percent higher than last month – and the Socialists on 39 percent – 0.5 percent lower than in May. With regard to speculation about when the elections will be held, most voters appear to want the government to see out its full four-year term. Four in 10 respondents said that it would be best to hold elections this year, either next month or in October, whereas 46 percent said the country should go to the polls next March. Almost six in 10 of those polled said that a coalition government would be better for the country.

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