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The "invisible" patients of Greek healthcare

11 November 2014 / 12:11:54  GRReporter
2106 reads

Simona Peneva

      Doctors, patients suffering from various diseases, and scientists gathered at the third Panhellenic patient conference and requested immediate reforms in the healthcare system.
     "Uninsured patients do not have access to hospitals and cannot undergo even testing. Due to lack of money, they cannot afford to visit a private clinic and as a result, they live with symptoms of an illness for a long time and then subsequently develop a serious disease. There are even cases of cancer and diabetes," said George Vichas, cardiologist and director of the social clinic in Athens. Having developed these diseases, the patients go to precisely this clinic, as it offers free primary healthcare and medical treatment to all uninsured, poor and unemployed patients who are taken care of by physicians, volunteers. Because of late visits to the doctor's office, the complications observed in these patients reach 60% and include complete blindness, stroke and heart attack. "They try to save money at first but due to these complications they need even more money. The conclusion is that by covering the costs of uninsured patients society does not lose money but saves it, because these complications are avoided," said cardiologist George Vichas, who is also a volunteer at the social clinic.
    The cost of emergency treastment is another problem. According to him, almost all hospitals take money from patients in the case of emergencies although this should not be so. For those who do not pay, the amount is added to their tax charges. The new bill will enable uninsured patients to visit the doctor and obtain medicines but not to be diagnosed, which is of paramount importance. The social clinic issues 60 new health cards every month.
     Michalis Roudsakis is one of the patients with heart disease. He is very well aware of the healthcare system for uninsured and shared with the participants his experience. On 18 August 2013, he suffered from an acute heart attack and he was taken to "Genimata" hospital. As he had been uninsured in recent years and unable to pay the insurance contributions, the 63-year-old man was charged 4,757.50 euro after his stay in hospital that lasted one week. Depite the fact that in May 2014 Minister of Health Adonis Georgiadis had announced that uninsured patients would be hospitalized in public hospitals for free if they had been directed by a doctor from the First National Health Network and a special three-member medical board, after a few days the patient's debt was added to his tax charges. His medicines that cost 250-270 euro per month are provided by the social clinic, despite the fact that current Minister of Health Makis Voridis has declared them free too.
     According to the president of the union of cystic fibrosis sufferers, Angeliki Preftitsi, Greek

healthcare lacks modern equipment, especially in the countryside, proper planning of the network of primary healthcare, habits for personal care, home therapy and patient involvement in the decision-making process. The constant legislative changes, lack of personnel, infrastructure and money, lack of GPs, poor planning of the network of healthcare centres and the excessive development of the private sector must be added to this as well.
     "In Europe there are 185 million people aged over 65 years. This means an aging population. In addition, there is an increase in chronic diseases," says Christina Papanicolaou, Secretary General of the Ministry of Health. She added that it is currently not possible to cover the costs of the uninsured and of expensive therapies. This is due to the fact that each patient selects prototype medicines that are more expensive and comprise 80% of the medicines in Greece. The country has 2 billion euro to cover the costs of medicines. One of the participants turned to the Secretary General and said that "patients will continue to suffer and pay for their testing and medicines unless the Ministry of Healthcare finds a solution."
     Patients with disabilities want the percentage of disability, the treatment costs for which are fully covered by the state, to fall to 67% from the present 80% and to be declared life-long. The table of disability that they offer is as follows: low degree of disability - up to 20%, medium - up to 40-50% and high 50-67%.
     Yioanna Alisandratou, president of the union of patients with pulmonary embolism, said that the disease is found only in the third stage in a large percentage of people, and it has only four stages. The fourth stage requires transplantation. "The pulmonary pressure of a healthy person is 15% and after a four-hour marathon 30%. Mine was 100% when I discovered the disease and it is now 86%." Currently, her percentage of disability is lower than 67% and does not cover her costs. According to her, in this disease, the commission often determines the percentage depending on the age of the patient, his or her profession and even appearance. However, those are not serious criteria for the patient's condition and are too superficial. "A patient with such a disease may die within eight hours without medicine," said Yioanna Alisandratou. What should you do if you do not have enough money to buy these medicines? The question remains unanswered, burdening those suffering from pulmonary embolism.

Tags: Public healthcareUninsured patientsCancer diseasesCardiac patientsPatients with pulmonary embolismCystic fibrosis
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