Greek Pharmacies Running out of Medication

Posted by Mike Tirone - Thursday, June 7th, 2012

The overwhelming impact of the Greek debt crisis has spread to the far reaches of the nation. Last week Wealth Wire showed you how prisoners throughout the country are starving to death as food supplies have been cut off by the government. Before that, the rate of suicides in the country have skyrocketed due to financial despair and political outrage.

The health of the Greek people is jeopardy thanks to the further lingering debt crisis.

A series of meetings between government officials and pharmacists have failed to resolve a two-week dispute over about half a billion euros in outstanding state-subsidized medication bills.

Today, the Independent reports that incredibly long lines have been stretching outside of a state-funded pharmacy in Athens as people wait to receive their life-saving drugs for seriously ill relatives.

The cause for these lines have been due to shortages in expensive drugs such as chemotherapy medicine as pharmaceutical companies cut credit to Greece's largest state-backed health insurance fund, EOPYY. The fund provides subsidized medicine to more than 9 million of the nation's 11 million people and according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Medicine is normally subsidized by an average of 75 percent, but now people must pay the full cost of their medication.

The Greek diabetes association claimed Tuesday that thousands of lives are at risk after the credit cut. The association has also warned that a growing liquidity drain is leading to shortages in vital drugs.

From Bloomberg,

"Everyone involved (in the dispute) must realize that the true victims are those who suffer on a daily basis, as their life depends on taking their medication," the Greek federation of people with diabetes said, adding that the fight over medicine bills is placing its members' life in danger.

Just six months after it was formed with the merger of four major funds, EOPYY owes pharmacists some (EURO)540 million ($670 million), which includes debts it inherited.

Pharmacists, who complain that the government refuses to offset EOPYY's debts against their tax dues, cut off credit to the fund last month.

This pharmaceutical problem is a blatant reminder of the hurdles that Greece still faces. Yesterday, local television channels showed images of hysteria and anger as hundreds of Greeks queued outside one of the five pharmacies owned by EOPYY. Numerous anecdotes of people waiting hours for their cancer-stricken mother's medicine and others barely surviving to stand in line to wait for their diabetes medicine.

According to The Independent, the average cost of a cancer patient's prescription in Greece is €2,000 ($2,513) but EOPYY-healthcare fund members received a significant discount. With such high demand for more affordable drugs, pharmacies are having to deal with disgruntled citizens who may be turned away due to lack of drugs being available that day. One pharmacy located in the oncology hospital in Athens gave out around 1,000 cancer drugs to 300 patients, yet still chemotherapy medicines were unavailable as one pharmaceutical company had yet to deliver.

As one retired doctor and volunteer at the KEFI Cancer Society notes, “It's a chaotic situation – a temporary solution was provided to help the seriously ill. But what happens when the government runs out of money again?”

From The Independent,

It's not just the pharmaceutical companies that are owed money. The EOPYY fund is also in debt to pharmacists. The government had pledged to repay the last outstanding instalment of this year's €270m debt to pharmacists after they cut credit to EOPYY, forcing members to pay for their own medicines, which are normally subsidised by the fund.

But it is all a matter of putting the horse before the carriage in terms of keeping Greece afloat. Prime Minister, Panayotis Pikrammenos, says that his caretaker government can't repay £6.5 billion ($8.1 billion) of outstanding payments to pharmacies until the country gets its next loan installment from its international creditors. Once that happens, the band-aid is put back onto the gaping wound that is Greece's debt. But until then, those in desperate need of medicine to survive are under the mercy of the government and of their health.

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