December 26, 2011
The free clinic here opened about a year ago to serve illegal immigrants. But these days, it is mostly caring for Greeks like Vassiliki Ragamb, who was sitting in the waiting room hoping to get insulin for her young diabetic son.
Four days earlier, she had run out of insulin and, without insurance and unable to pay for more, she had gone from drugstore to drugstore, pleading for at least enough for a few days. It took her three hours to find a pharmacist who was willing to help.
“I tried a lot of them,” she said, gazing at the floor.
Greece used to have an extensive public health care system that pretty much ensured that everybody was covered for everything. But in the last two years, the nation’s creditors have pushed hard for dramatic cost savings to cut back the deficit. These measures are taking a brutal toll on the system and on the country’s growing numbers of poor and unemployed who cannot afford the new fees and co-payments instituted at public hospitals as part of the far-reaching austerity drive.
At public hospitals, doctors report shortages of all kinds of supplies, from toilet paper to catheters to syringes. Computerized equipment has gone unrepaired and is no longer in use. Nurses are handling four times the patients they should, and wait times for operations — even cancer surgeries — have grown longer.
Access to drugs has also been affected, as some drug manufacturers, owed tens of millions of dollars, are no longer willing to supply Greek hospitals. At the same time pharmacists, afraid that the government might not reimburse them, are asking for cash payments, even from those with insurance.