ATHENS – Under siege by critics for imposing a 25 euro hospital admission fee that is keeping the poor from being treated, Greek Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis said he would meet with lawmakers from the PASOK Socialists who voted for it but now want it revised or withdrawn.
PASOK is a partner in the coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, and has been taking a beating in the polls for unrelenting support of harsh austerity measures.
The fee was backed by PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, who is Samaras’ Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister. They said his support for the fee has made the Socialists look cold and callous and uncaring. He faces a challenge to his leadership as the grumbling is growing that he’s leading the party into oblivion.
The charge was introduced on Jan. but has already proved unpopular with coalition, as well as opposition, lawmakers even though it had been planned many months earlier.
The new critics said they just discovered they don’t like it after supporting it as a public outcry grew, especially in the wake of the death of an uninsured cancer patient who couldn’t get into a state hospital.
Georgiadis said he would meet PASOK deputies this week to discuss the measure but added that he believed the government was correct to charge the fee even though critics said many poor can’t afford it and thus couldn’t be admitted to the hospital if they needed to be. He said the money brought in would be returned in services to people who couldn’t afford to pay the fee.
The minister said the only way that it could be scrapped is if there is a viable proposal for collecting the revenue it would bring in from other sources. He said that one of the options was to add a charge to all CAT and MRI scans.
Georgiadis said the country’s international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) who have insisted on revenue raising measures would not allow for it to be withdrawn unless the money could be made up some other way.
The Independent Greeks, a marginal party, have called for a vote on the fee. Samaras and Venizelos have only a three-vote majority in the 300-member Parliament and if only a few of their deputies bolt it could be disastrous for the government.
PASOK wants the poor and members of the military to be exempt from the fee, but not the unemployed, who would have to pay it or not be admitted to the hospital.
Even some of Samaras’ lawmakers are grumbling even though they too voted for the fee after he brought them into line. Rebels who vote against the bills Samaras wants are usually ejected from the party.