Greek healthcare system struggling to cope under weight of budget cuts

Here and Now

Greece is moving to new election on June 17, after the political parties elected this month failed to reach an agreement on how to form a government.

At the center of their disagreement in how Greece should go forward in this era of austerity, budget cuts and higher taxes. Most of the political parties that gained seats in this election want to scrap austerity all together, or at least scale it back dramatically. They say the austerity measures are destroying Greek life and culture.

The Greek healthcare system is at the center of that debate. Beset with budget cuts, people are being asked to bear an increasing portion of their own healthcare expenses.

“Healthcare spending has been reduced by over a billion euros over the last year,” Hadjimatheou said. “Around 20 percent of hospitals are now facing closure.”

BBC reporter Chloe Hadjimatheou says a woman who gave birth told her she was asked to pay the €1200 fee before the baby would be allowed to leave the hospital.

The hospital says they offered to allow the woman to pay in installments, but never threatened to hold her baby until payment was made. 

Hadjimatheou said this isn’t the first time serious allegations like this have been made. In the Greek Parliament last year, a similar story was told, about the same hospital. In that case, the child was reportedly held for a week. In other instances, a hospital chose to keep the child’s birth certificate until payment was made, which presents serious legal problems for families.

“In Greece, national healthcare is only free for those working and for those who don’t owe any money to the state,” Hadjimatheou said. 

But with unemployment over 20 percent and additional taxes being leveled practically every month, some estimate 20 percent of Greeks have no heathcare coverage.

Free clinics are struggling to cope with increased demand.

“The anti-austerity parties who did so well in recent election insist that cases like these provide reason enough to drop out of the European bailout deal,” Hadjimatheou said.

But there are no guarantees that will make things easier, either.

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