Hospitals pay over odds

Companies that supply the national health system with medicines and equipment, a market that is worth more than 3 billion euros per year, have been able to take advantage of indifference by officials to systematically overcharge the public sector for their goods, Sunday’s Kathimerini has learned. A report compiled by civil service inspectors in 2006, which was submitted to then Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis and his successor Dimitris Avramopoulos, indicated that many of the state hospital suppliers had set up a system to show that they were purchasing goods at much higher prices than what they had actually paid for them. A titanium screw, for instance, cost 18 euros in Cyprus, but was bought for 159 euros by Greek hospitals. A stent, often used in coronary or vascular surgery, cost 620 euros in Cyprus, but 2,143 euros in Greece. The process of overcharging involved working with companies in Cyprus that invoiced the Greek firms for drugs and medical equipment that they had already bought from abroad. The inflated invoices meant that the goods cost the public sector in Greece four to six times more than they did in Cyprus. The scam is thought to be behind the skyrocketing spending on medical supplies for public hospitals in recent years. In 2001, the budget for these products was 1.3 billion euros. By 2007, it had risen to 3.4 billion. The bill has been footed by taxpayers and social security funds, which cover part or all of the costs of medicines and equipment for those who are insured with them. The investigation was actually launched in 2004 after New Democracy came to power, but its findings do not appear to have been acted on since 2006. However, armed with the findings of the report, the bosses of 12 hospitals joined together in 2006 to negotiate discounts with their suppliers and were able to reduce prices from 15 to 50 percent.

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