Essential Drugs Unavailable as Greek Pharmacists Strike

Approximately 163 critical drugs are now unobtainable from pharmacies in Greece, sector leaders stated, in advance of the country’s pharmacists’ planned one-day strike today.

Drugstores in Greece are closed today as owners demonstrate against the fact that social security funds are yet to pay their growing unpaid medication bill.

Pharmacists have decided to shut their businesses for today and stop providing customers with medication on credit until the National Organization for Healthcare Provision (EOPYY), the nation’s main healthcare provider, pays off debts of roughly 250 million euros for prescriptions distributed in March.

The debt held by pharmacies as a consequence of the failure of health insurers to refund them frequently for prescription medicines is on track to reach 1 billion euros by the end of this May 2012. Of this amount, the balance due for medication distributed in March, April and May this year accounts for 750 million euros, according to pharmacy leaders.

Pharmacists stated on Monday this week that they have seen an internal EOPYY paper that proposes the institute will receive a maximum of 784 million euros this year.

However, the pharmacists highlight that the payment due for medicine they supply to those insured with EOPYY reaches 250 million euros most months, and therefore that the association will soon not be able to afford to pay its medical bills.

As a result of the organisation’s debt, some pharmacies are refusing to provide refunded drugs unless patients pay for them upfront, making the problem worse, noted the reports, although they also add that patients who do pay for drugs upfront are being repaid by the EOPYY.

The country’s expenditure on medicine has already been reduced by 1.75 billion to 3.8 billion euros, but the Greek government wants to bring it to less than 1 billion euros, partially through the use of cheap generic drugs. Costas Lourantos, the head of Attica Pharmacists Association claimed that his members alone are owed 74 million euros for drugs sold on credit in January and February of this year.

Unable to afford expensive drugs

Lourantos also cautioned of shortages of drugs including medicines for cancer treatment, heart disease and blood pressure. He added that pharmacies and hospitals frequently find themselves unable to have the funds for stocking expensive medication.

At the news conference, a 40-year-old cancer patient detailed her struggle to get hold of her medicine. “I have to take this drug 18 times over the next year but I have to find it on my own,” she stated.

Further intensifying the shortage difficulties are the very low drug prices in Greece, which lead to parallel exporting of certain products, and suppliers concluding that the prices they can charge do not make their presence in Greece worthwhile.

An additional major problem is that Greece have been unsuccessful in containing their public spending on medicines within the 2.88 billion euro yearly level set recently by their creditors – the European Union (EU), the European Central Bank and the European Monetary Fund.  The system is surpassing the monthly limits set by about 50 million euros a month, making a overall estimated overspend of 600 million euros for 2012.

Electronic prescription system

Greece’s new electronic prescription system, intended to reduce waste and oversupply of medications, was anticipated to be a big factor in regulating countrywide drug spending. However, the system has needed to be taken down several times this month as a result of technical problems, and in April it was blocked when hackers uploaded approximately 1.5 million fake prescriptions.

So far, roughly 38,000 doctors and 10,800 pharmacies have been using the e-prescription system, recording a daily average of 140,000 prescriptions for medication worth approximately 6.6 million euros.

Meanwhile, international drug makers are “prepared to take a reasonable approach” to remaining to supply Greece with treatments if the country leaves the Eurozone, according to Richard Bergstrom, the director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).

“There is no concrete plan but there is an understanding that, if something happened, we would need to move swiftly,” Mr Bergstrom added.

“There are historic precedents where the pharmaceuticals industry has behaved very rationally and responsibly together with governments,” he noted, providing the example of Argentina’s financial downfall in 2002, when a variety of drug makers continued to provide the country with products, without payment, for a while.


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