Time to stop the waste

Better late than never: After two years, Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos has finally realized the negative effects of his predecessor’s (Nikitas Kaklamanis) mistaken policy regarding the pharmaceutical market and has found the courage to reintroduce a list of approved medications for social security fund subscribers. Of course, Kaklamanis is not solely to blame for the error of abolishing the list (made law in 2006 by Avramopoulos) which made a fortune for pharmaceutical firms and importers and led to the bankruptcy of funds and hospitals (7 billion euros were spent on medications alone in 2007). The entire New Democracy party was responsible, given Giorgos Souflias’s pre-election promise, made in a flimsy pamphlet euphemistically referred to as ND’s platform, that the party would abolish the list if it came to power. So when the list was abolished in 2006, an orgy of waste and corruption followed at the expense of the social security funds, which was eventually paid for by the subscribers who saw the funds’ reserves dwindle away, as well as by the taxpayers called upon to balance the budget in subsidies to the Social Security Foundation (IKA) and other funds. Local pharmaceutical companies got rich, but naturally the lion’s share went to the multinationals. According to the Health Ministry’s general secretary Aristides Kalogeropoulos, cheap but effective medications were withdrawn from the market and replaced with newer, more expensive drugs, the sole effect of which was to raise spending rather than provide any therapeutic benefit. These new, expensive drugs now account for 70 percent of sales. Avramopoulos’s decision, however belated, to reintroduce the list indicates a determination to put some order to the chaotic state of the health sector, but it alone is not enough. The next step should be to control doctors’ unrestricted writing of prescriptions simply to serve the drug companies’ interests.