Greece's private healthcare clinics said on Tuesday (29 October) that they would not accept patients insured by the country's main healthcare facility, the National Organisation for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY), because the organisation owes €800 million in private healthcare facilities, according to the newspaper Ekathimerini.
The Association of Greek Clinics said it would withhold care until Sunday, 3 November, or until the EOPYY settles its debts. However, private clinics will continue to provide care to patients with kidney disease and those being treated at intensive care units until Sunday, when its deadline for a settlement with the EOPYY expires.
"Our potential for survival has run out," the association said in a statement, explaining that the EOPYY's debt goes as far back as 2007.
Six million people in Greece are uninsured and do not have access to medical care.
In September, the president of EOPYY, Dimitris Kontos, announced that around 3,1 million people had lost their insurance capability. Another 3,3 million citizens, for example merchants who are closing their shops, are about to lose their insurance rights, Kontos added.
Between 2008 and 2011, 17 out of the EU’s 28 member states slashed their public spending on healthcare due to austerity policies.
In Greece, the entire public healthcare system has also been under enormous strain. Population groups that were already vulnerable before the crisis, such as undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, drug users, sex workers and homeless people, have seen a reduction in the social safety nets that provide them with basic help.
Amongst the patients at the humanitarian group Doctors of the World's clinics, 20% have reported being denied access to healthcare in the EU during the last 12 months.
In Greece before the crisis, most of the patients were migrants. But during the last year, almost half of the patients were Greek citizens, Doctors of the World said. Many of them can no longer afford healthcare services.
Last Thursday, Greek police shut down a voluntary private clinic in Elliniko, the Metropolitan Community Clinic, which has had 15,000 visits since 2011 from people who were denied access to free state healthcare, according Enet.gr, an online media.
Syriza, the main opposition leftist party which has become the second largest in the Greek Parliament following the 2012 elections, called the action "shameful".
Greek police said they had received reports that the clinic was distributing unauthorised substances to drug addicts, but the Metropolitan Community Clinic said in a statement that it did not know where the complaint came from.
"All we'll do is repeat what we've said for the past two years. No one should be alone in this crisis. Let the government and the health ministry provide a solution so that there will be no need for social health clinics and social pharmacies to exist," the clinic said.
"More than 3 million citizens have no access to the public health system. When will the government finally do something about it?" the clinic asked.
The eurozone debt crisis has forced some governments to drastically cut their public health budgets in an effort to contain deficits.
Greece was among the countries taking the toughest measures, but Spain and other countries such as France and the Czech Republic have also taken similar steps.
- 3 Nov.: Deadline for the Association of Greek Clinics' settlement with EOPYY expires.