IKA tries to curb waste in medicines

The governor of the country’s largest health and pension fund, the Social Security Foundation (IKA), has written to the health minister urging the ministry to adopt bar codes on medicines in an effort to crack down on wastefulness. This would be part of a larger effort to control medical and pharmaceutical costs that are deemed to be excessive. People insured by the IKA fund are expected to cost 2.3 billion euros next year, an increase of 10.3 percent from 2002. Of this amount, medicines are forecast to cost 830 million euros, a 13.8 percent increase from this year. Medical costs are second only to pensions in IKA’s annual spending. «Dealing with the overprescribing of medicines and rackets involved in pharmaceuticals will curb funds’ spending by 40 percent without affecting the level of benefits,» an official at the Labor and Social Security Ministry said. IKA governor Miltiades Nektarios’s proposal for the adoption of bar codes ties in with IKA’s new computer system that will process the 25 million prescriptions issued by IKA’s 8,500 doctors annually and are filled by some 9,000 pharmacies, which then submit them to IKA for payment. A nine-number bar code on medicine packages, as part of the tape confirming that the medicines are authentic, will do away with the current process of writing out prescriptions by hand and will limit mistakes. The bar codes will be scanned electronically. The Labor Ministry, which is in charge of IKA, said in a press release that the manual typing of medicine codes «implies the typing of 450 million medicine codes annually with a 7 percent mistake rate. A bar code on the medicines’ tape of authenticity rules out the need for typing almost completely, reducing the rate of mistakes from 7 percent to 0.1 percent.» It said the National Pharmaceuticals Organization (EOF) agreed with this measure and that bar codes applied in the rest of Europe and North America. Although IKA’s spending on medicines is just the tip of the iceberg, Nektarios’s proposal highlights a problem that has hobbled social security funds. Unnecessary treatment and prescriptions, combined with a near-total lack of supervision, have created huge economic problems for funds.

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