Health costs ‘bankrupt’ the poor

Some 50,000 Greek households go bankrupt every year as they pay way beyond their means for health services, particularly when it comes to serious illnesses, experts told a conference yesterday. «The problem with our health system is that the have-nots are paying much more than their incomes allow,» said Yiannis Kyriopoulos, an expert on health economics. Most of the speakers attending the conference highlighted the inequalities of the state system which, they said, only theoretically offers free healthcare to all citizens. They called for increases in state funding and «solidarity mechanisms» to support poorer families. In Greece, some 2.4 percent of households face bankruptcy as they pay out more than 40 percent of their total income on health services. These are «catastrophically high expenses» and a significantly higher rate than in Europe, where an average of 0.4 percent of households are bankrupted by excessive medical expenses. In the USA the equivalent rate is 1.2 percent. The problem is particularly acute when it comes to treating serious illnesses. «Recovery after a heart attack differs for patients from different income levels due to the difference in their access to medical care,» according to Kyriakos Souliotis of the University of Peloponnese. Some 35 percent of the population avoid using health services when they have a medical problem as a way of avoiding excessive costs, Souliotis said. But a significantly larger proportion – some 65 percent – have a different approach: They prefer to go private and pay more than endure the time-consuming state system, missing days from work and thus losing out on salaries.

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