One of the global financial crisis' consequences has been the lack of access to treatment for millions of Europeans. According to health promoters, alternative solutions to the problem may be the way forward.
Problems regarding the affordability of medicines in Europe and the long-term sustainability of public expenditure on medicines precede the crisis in the EU.
At a Parliament event on Thursday (16 May), Spanish MEP Alejandro Cercas (Socialists and Democrats) said citizens especially in the EU's poorest countries no longer can afford their medicines.
"It's unacceptable that millions can't afford the best lifesaving treatment in the EU. More fiscal solidarity has not lead to more general solidarity. We are putting the EU at risk," Cercas stated.
Cercas added that it's also unacceptable that billions of euros are spent on research when some citizens cannot pay for them.
In the EU, around 60% of total pharmaceutical spending comes from the public purse.
It is predominately private in Bulgaria, Estonia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.
Though the crisis has given opportunities to both reduce public pharmaceutical expenditure and maximise the benefits of the public investment in medicines, not all opportunities are being taken. Negotiating lower prices for medicines is one example, according to the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).
Different healthcare problems in member states
Greek MEP Nikos Chrysogelos (Greens) said Greece doesn't have a fair and balanced healthcare system, and this has huge consequences.
"The situation is serious. The system is collapsing. More than a million people don't have access to treatment," the Greek MEP said.
Chrysogelos added that rising unemployment also has taken its toll on healthcare in Greece. There currently is a discussion in Greece about the problem with an ineffective, bureaucratic healthcare system and how to make a cost-benefit analysis to reform it, the MEP said.
In Romania, the situation is far from perfect, Socialist MEP Minodora Cliveti said, as the previous government decided to close 67 hospitals. For Romania the big problem is not uninsured patients but rather the fact that some medicines are not available in the country.
In crisis-hit Ireland, medicines sometimes cost up to four times more than in other member states, even though the country being home to many pharmaceutical companies, Irish MEP Marian Harkin (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe ) told the audience.
"It's incredible that this is happening. I have no idea why we are witnessing this," she said.
New ways of solving problems
To find solutions to the access and affordability problems in the EU's healthcare system, there has to be more "outside-the-box" thinking, said David Hammerstein, senior advisor on intellectual property for the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue.
He said one solution could be that member states by medicines together.
"It's currently against the rules of the single market, but maybe then we should change the rules. We are talking about lifesaving medicines for people who don't get treatment," Hammerstein stated.
Portuguese MEP Maria do Céu Patrão Neves (European People's Party) also highlighted that the research and innovation sector is the only one within the EU's new seven-year budget which won't suffer cuts.
As part of Horizon 2020, €80 billions has been invested in science which is also devoted to improving health promotion and prevention.
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.
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- European Public Health Alliance (EPHA): Website