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Vol. 76/No. 6      February 13, 2012

Greek rulers’ austerity drive
undermines workers’ health
ATHENS, Greece—To keep paying interest on their massive government debt, the capitalist rulers of Greece have been slashing expenditures and imposing onerous taxes to foist the maximum burden on working people. As millions are hit with the consequences of the nationwide economic contraction, which includes layoffs, pay and pension cuts, and reductions in work hours, the working class also confronts an accelerating erosion of government services such as health care.

Official unemployment in Greece now hovers at nearly 20 percent. According to estimates given by the Athens-Piraeus Doctors Association, one out of five working people in Greece are without health insurance.

“I never thought that I would be in such a situation,” Yianis Lykopoulos told the Militant. “I had to borrow money from relatives in order to pay the hospital bill.” Lykopoulos drives a small truck delivering books and periodicals. Two weeks ago his boss slashed his workweek to three days from five. His wife is unemployed and just gave birth to their second child.

“It used to be unheard of not to have health coverage,” Theo Misailidis, a pediatrician in Katarini, said in an interview. “Workers who are employed or are receiving unemployment benefits are still covered through the government system. But once your benefits run out, you’re no longer covered.” And for those still covered, many are finding new fees too difficult to pay.

To stave off a credit collapse, the Greek government is depending on billions of dollars in “bailout” money loaned by the so-called troika: the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank. The loans are conditioned on imposing more austerity measures aimed at workers, including gutting public health care.

In the last two years government health-care funding was cut by 13 percent—from $19.5 billion to $17 billion. Hospital budgets have been slashed by 40 percent.

Many who can no longer afford private insurance are turning to the public hospitals. While private hospital admissions have fallen as much as 30 percent, in public hospitals they have climbed by about 24 percent.

“In a six-hour shift, I am seeing 40 patients, which is ridiculous,” Dr. Elias Sioras, a cardiologist at Evangelismos Hospital in Athens, told the New York Times. “And a lot of things that were covered, especially tests, are not covered anymore.”

The Athens daily Kathimerini reports that some public hospitals are refusing to admit uninsured women to give birth if they don’t have money to pay the increased fees. Dr. Olatz Ugarte, an anesthesiologist at the Saint Savvas Cancer Hospital in Athens, told the Times that women with breast cancer often wait three months to have tumors removed, which can mean the difference between life and death.

Doctors around the country have protested the lack of basic supplies like toilet paper, syringes, gauzes, catheters and drugs. Roche Holding AG has stopped delivery of drugs to public hospitals that have not paid past bills.

“For people who did not have the money to pay the doctor, there used to be government-funded clinics that did vaccinations for free,” Misailidis said. “That has not existed for the last couple of years. Diseases that were unheard of for decades have begun to reappear, such as diptheria and polio.”
Related articles:
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