Drug costs go unchecked

Pharmaceutical costs in Greece jumped more than 11 percent last year to 6.1 billion euros as spending by social security funds on medicines goes unchecked due to a lack of online computer systems, according to industry sources. Rackets involved in the pharmaceutical business have created different methods to cheat the country’s social security organizations – funds that could be going bust as soon as 2015 due to financing problems if the system is not overhauled. «International experience shows that computerized and automated methods of monitoring prescriptions, supplying medicines and checking diagnostic and medical practices can limit expenses by as much as 30 percent,» said Vassilis Kontozamanis, vice president of the National Organization for Medicines (EOF). «Pharmaceutical expenses are just the tip of the iceberg,» he added. Techniques used to up the medical costs charged to the funds include oversubscribing medicines, which are among the lowest priced in Europe. The scam helps members of the medical community gain favor among drug companies prepared to reward their better clients. «A doctor at an oncology center may prescribe a drug to a patient who could die in the next 24 hours but will do so anyway,» according to one industry source. «Each injection could cost more than 3,000 euros. After the patient dies, who would dare to accuse the doctor of providing unnecessary medical assistance?» Other methods used by drug wholesalers or retailers to cheat funds include claiming money for medicines that are not passed onto patients but are exported abroad. According to estimates, pharmacy wholesalers currently export 1.2 billion euros of medicines per year versus 67 million euros in 1998. The illegal activity has taken off in recent years, as the paperwork demanded by funds for reimbursement can be easily forged. Indicative of the growth in fake prescriptions is a 60 percent increase in pharmacy expenses paid by IKA, the country’s largest social security fund, between 2003 to 2007.