US drug firm concerns rebuffed

Calls by US Ambassador in Athens Daniel Speckhard for Greek authorities to settle outstanding payments owed to American pharmaceutical manufacturers were scorned yesterday by Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, who remarked that «the Greek government does not take instructions.» «The ambassador’s statements are pointless and unfortunate,» Avramopoulos said in a statement. «The Greek government is fully aware of the situation and is dealing with the matter in the best possible way,» the statement added. Avramopoulos was responding to comments made by Speckhard to an Economist conference in Athens on Monday, according to which the Greek state allegedly owes US pharmaceutical companies a total of 4 billion dollars. «It’s hard to imagine any businesses providing goods and services for two to three years without getting paid,» Speckhard had said, noting that both the companies concerned and a number of government officials were «encouraging» the government to resolve the issue. Avramopoulos yesterday noted that the government had set the ball rolling for the commencement of outstanding payments to health service suppliers. As regards the indebted Civil Servants’ Fund (OPAD), which subsidizes medicines for public sector workers, Avramopoulos said it has been given the necessary funds to start gradually paying off its debts to pharmacies and doctors. For the past week or so citizens have been paying for their medicines after pharmacists in Athens and Piraeus stopped giving out prescription drugs due to OPAD’s failure to to settle debts dating back to April. Earlier this week private doctors suspended their contracts with social security funds as of December 15 in protest at the funds’ failure to pay them for services rendered over the past 10 months. The action means that hundreds of thousands of workers will have to pay for visits to doctors and then apply for cash refunds. Avramopoulos and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis are expected to face a grilling about health sector debts from opposition PASOK in Parliament on Friday. «The health sector is barely functioning,» PASOK leader George Papandreou said yesterday.