Greece’s health minister appealed to panicked patients struggling to secure medical treatment to remain calm after pharmacists continued their boycott of the country’s largest state health-care provider by refusing to extend credit to patients, in another sign of a credit squeeze taking hold of the economy.
Pharmacists stopped providing credit to those insured with the National Organization For Healthcare Provision, known as EOPYY, late last month, demanding that it pay €762 million ($950.4 million) owed to them, in a move that is forcing patients to either pay cash for drugs or obtain them from a handful of EOPYY’s own pharmacies.
The boycott has led to supply problems and stoked concerns over the welfare of critically ill patients, especially those who have to pay for pricey chemotherapy treatments that can run into thousands of euros.
The cash squeeze in the sector comes as the government risks of running out of money by mid-June and after the European Commission and International Monetary Fund withheld €1 billion of a €5.2 billion aid tranche paid in May, pending the outcome of elections.
Since the crisis broke out in Greece in late 2009, payment delays have become more acute in the last few months, affecting everything from private sector salaries to importers and energy suppliers as banks clamp down on lending and the government slashes payments on supplier bills.
With Greece’s unemployment rate soaring to record highs and the country in a fifth year of recession, social security contributions supporting the country’s health-care system have dropped sharply. Adding to the sector’s woes are pharmaceutical companies that have stopped selling drugs to the Greek state on credit, putting a further strain on supply levels.
In the last few days, thousands of people could be seen queuing at the four pharmacies designated to serve the emergency needs of 9.2 million Greeks insured with EOPYY.
“We appeal to pharmacists to end this issue. We need to reassure patients,” Health Minister Christos Kittas told reporters.
Greece has promised to gradually pay pharmacies €310 million by the time the country goes to elections June 17 after providing a €70 million payment Wednesday.
Responding to the call, the Panhellenic Pharmacists Association said it will end the protest action only when it receives the full amount.
“They have said this before. How much patience can we show?” said an association official.
Mr. Kittas vowed to ensure a steady flow of drugs and said that any disruption to supply will be resolved in the coming days.
The health ministry plans to distribute EOPYY drugs at an additional 100 chemists and 135 state hospitals across the country in a proposal opposed by pharmacists.