The ‘social’ card: Medical reform

The meeting yesterday between conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his health minister, as well as the ensuing statements made by Nikitas Kaklamanis, raised hopes that the quality of the troubled state-provided healthcare system will improve. «I needed a final ‘yes’ from the prime minister because the bill on primary healthcare is very big and very costly,» an obviously pleased Kaklamanis said as he came out the government headquarters at Maximos Mansion. The proposed legislation should be tabled in the next six months. The backbone of the government’s campaign to revamp primary healthcare will focus on giving all citizens access to family doctors (something which is not available now) and establishing about 70 health centers, 50 of which will be located in Athens, Piraeus, and Thessaloniki. The prime minister is right to put the health sector first. The initiative is a good demonstration of the conservative administration’s social welfare model that is mainly aimed at the lower-income strata – but not exclusively. The health sector a priori deserves any extra cost and sacrifice. We should not turn away from reality. There are people who live in remote areas and islands – which the governments usually refer to as «borderline» districts – and their sole reward is a dismal system of medical service, shameful for a modern European nation. It would be remarkable progress if the primary healthcare system reform promoted by the Karamanlis government succeeded in bringing the inhabitants of borderline regions on an equal footing with the rest of Greece. Political pledges to reform the country’s problem-ridden medical sector tend to raise high expectations. The government must move swiftly to implement its promises so as to prevent any fresh letdowns. All the necessary conditions are in place. The prime minister has given the go-ahead without any reservations, the health minister is one of the most competent cadres in the conservative administration, and there are plenty of social and political benefits to be gained. The prime minister no doubt has good intentions. But experience so far has shown that the government finds it hard to turn words into action. The health bill is a good opportunity for New Democracy to make a fresh start.