Free Medicine For Uninsured Greeks

ATHENS – Reeling from criticism that austerity measures have left 20 percent of the population without health care – and after a 40-year-old mother of two died because she couldn’t afford to buy blood pressure medicine – Greece is moving to provide free drugs for the uninsured and people who can’t afford them.

There are between 1.9 and 2.4 million Greeks, or roughly 20 percent of the total population, without social insurance, Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis said as he announced plans to provide them with free medicines.

Georgiadis said that the government would know the exact number in three weeks time, once a census of those without any cover is completed. He said without that there’s no way to know how many people are affected. The government hasn’t kept the numbers until now.

He had said the government, which is giving banks 50 million euros in recapitalization funds, can’t afford 700 million euros to provide health care for people who don’t have it. He had no estimate of how much it would cost to give them free medicine.

Georgiadis said that it would be his “biggest challenge” to find the funds necessary to guarantee free access to drugs for those who are left without social security, in many cases due to becoming unemployed.

“We want to find a way in which the state can directly cover an obligation which we recognize the state has,” he said. “And this certainly has to happen in a way in which we have clear control over how much is spent.”

He said that that the government had recently allocated 13 million euros obtained from defense contract kickbacks that were paid back into public coffers so Greeks without health coverage could undergo operations.

The only way for uninsured Greeks to currently get their hands on medicines apart from buying the drugs is to be given them at free surgeries run by municipalities or a medicine bank run by the Athens Medical Association and the Federation of Greek Pharmaceutical Companies.