OPINION

Long-term policy for hospital debts

The total debt of state clinics at the end of 2003 hovered at 1.8 billion euros, Health and Social Solidarity Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis told a press conference yesterday. The debt issue is expected to be dealt with in the summer through a parliamentary bill on the purchase of hospital equipment. The new government must be careful not to perpetuate the problematic relationship between the State and state clinics. The current status quo has degraded the quality of hospital services. The government should promote a long-term solution and not one which might relieve the ballooning debt in the short term but which will allow the problem to resurface in the near future. The conservative administration must break the vicious circle: Social security funds are unable to cover hospital expenses, which means that a large proportion of hospital debt is the result of outstanding payments by social security organizations – the worst offender being OGA, the Farmers’ Pension Fund. The failure to collect money from the social security funds means that clinics are unable to pay off their suppliers or they only pay off part of their debt. What is more, the process is subject to serious delays. Suppliers, for their part, take note of the clinics’ insolvency and raise prices. As bad payers, hospital clinics are unable to negotiate better prices. The situation described above is fertile ground for corruption, making the situation even worse. A fresh start is absolutely mandatory. A new relationship must be established between hospitals, social security funds and the State – one which will be based on a more rational management of hospitals, fairer pricing of services, and which will ensure the basic conditions for economic viability. It would be an illusion to believe that state subsidies to hospitals can be abolished. However, the empty coffers of the social funds can no longer support a long-bankrupt welfare policy in which state hospitals offer services that cost as much as those of private clinics while offering quality which is far inferior in many respects.