Health Insurance a Victim of Austerity in Greece

Health Insurance a Victim of Austerity in Greece

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Physicians working at an Athens branch of Doctors of the World
Physicians working at an Athens branch of Doctors of the World

Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis said somewhere between 1.9 million to 2.4 million Greek citizens don’t have health insurance because a crushing economic crisis has left them without without jobs or health benefits and said the government doesn’t have the 700 million euros needed to cover them.

That is 70 times less than the 50 billion euros the government is giving to banks to recapitalize them and less than three times more than the 250 million euros in loans Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy conservatives and their coalition partner the PASOK socialists borrowed from the banks without repaying.

Georgiadis didn’t say why the ministry doesn’t have a better accounting than the difference of 500,000 whose coverage is unclear but medical charities said the true figure is closer to three million of Greece’s 10.8 million population, the Associated Press said.

Most of those uncovered are families of long-term unemployed who have had state benefits withdrawn, while Samaras said the country is recovering because the government floated a 3-billion euro bond to get money, mostly to repay banks.

He also said 70 percent of a 1.4 billion euro surplus – twice what is needed to extend health insurance to those without – will go to low-income pensioners who’ve had their benefits slashed, but also to his party’s core constituency of police, military and emergency personnel.

Samaras also said Greece “doesn’t need more money” and that the government later this year will have enough to pay for its own operations without relying on more bailouts from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).

Greeks have seen their pay and pensions cut 30 percent and more and loss of healthcare coverage during a crushing economic crisis caused by generations of wild overspending by successive New Democracy and PASOK governments, which hired hundreds of thousands of needless workers in return for votes.

Georgiadis says the uninsured are being granted free access to reformed state health clinics, where they receive primary medical care. But specialized care depends on donations from drug companies and private charities.

Many Greeks now are also relying on charity medical clinics such as Doctors of the World that used to see mostly immigrant patients, while other volunteer operations such as the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Elliniko say they are treating people who should be in hospitals.

“At a same time that the banks and lenders are receiving billions of euros, the government can’t spend 700 million euros to help the country’s three million uninsured citizens (according to the health minister, that’s all it would cost),” it said in a statement.

On the island of Mytilini, it was reported that a 40-year-old uninsured mother of two died from a stroke because she didn’t have eight euros to pay for blood-pressure medication and none was provided her after she was hospitalized.

The Metropolitan clinic said the woman’s death proved once again that the government’s “policy of excluding our uninsured fellow citizens from healthcare means that human life is endangered and often lost”.

Georgiadis didn’t specify the cost to the government of providing hospital treatment for people without health insurance.