OPINION

Unhealthy habits

The total amount that Greeks spend on health in both the state and private sectors comes to 9.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). That’s a very high percentage considering that the EU average stands at 8.6 percent. The problem of course is that services here are inferior to those of our EU peers. There are many reasons for that, including the structural shortcomings of the national health service as well as staff and infrastructure deficits. There is no cure-all and the government must take firm steps to streamline a system that is messy and corrupt. Draft legislation over the supply system, currently being discussed by Parliament’s social affairs committee to introduce a watchdog to supervise the supply of drugs and medical products (worth over 2 billion euros annually), aspires to ensure stable price levels, eliminate kickbacks and save up to 500 million euros. Waste and corruption have been around for years and is well-known to conservative as well as socialist officials. Alekos Papadopoulos, a PASOK health minister, used to speak of the piranhas eating away at the health funds. The socialist cadre was not just referring to the suppliers but also to people within the ministries and clinics that approved the fixed competitions. According to Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, an order used to go through 12 different stages – which translated into 12 different kickbacks. To get an idea of the magnitude of the waste, it’s enough to mention that every year sees some 9,000 competitions for some 500,000 medical products and 11,000 drugs purchased from 1,144 companies. The big price discrepancies among hospitals give an indication of the irregularities. It’s no coincidence that the 2005 budget for medical supplies overran by 70 percent.