OPINION

Negligence, incompetence or fraud?

The severe penalties imposed by the appeals court in Patra on two doctors who were found guilty of writing fake prescriptions for in-vitro fertilization drugs indicate the direction the state should take to protect itself against the pharmaceutical drug racket. Sure, the state must bring fraudsters to justice. At the same time, however, it must safeguard the healthcare system against polypharmacy, doctors prescribing an excessive number of drugs and overpricing. Reports published on the day the court announced its verdict on the doctors said that the drug-pricing committee has failed to develop the new pricing regimen, as the Economy Ministry’s General Secretariat of Commerce has not yet completed its survey of the prices of 11,500 medicines, which was due on August 12. The government had pledged to rationalize the prices of medicines based on the average of the three cheapest European Union states. A first attempt fell through when state authorities failed to gather the necessary data. In the spring, the government reduced drug prices by a flat rate of 22 percent, a move that disrupted the market, causing withdrawals and a shortage of drugs. The chaos continues: In public hospital corridors, drug company sales reps are marketing their products directly to doctors. They are effectively influencing the prescription process and buying out consciences in an environment that is reminiscent of Third World countries. The state is dragging its feet or, worse, is committing a crime against the sick. It seeks, for example, to contain the price of aspirin while, at the same time, it turns a blind eye to the extortionate fees for certain pharmaceutical or surgical supplies, shifting costs onto the already strained insurance funds – i.e. the taxpayer. The cost of this habit is absurd. Worse, it undermines the foundations of democratic society, eating away at pensions, benefits and the social security system at large. Reports Thursday said that the healthcare sector of the Social Security Foundation (IKA) has a 1.4-billion-euro deficit, while that of the Agricultural Insurance Organization (OGA) owes 460 million euros. Meanwhile, the General Secretariat of Commerce is unable to collect information on the prices of drugs in Europe. Negligence? Incompetence? Or plain fraud?