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Economic crisis, austerity and the Greek public health system

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For 2 years the Greek financial crisis has captured global attention. In return for loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European institutions, Greece agreed on harsh across-the-board austerity measures, yet most commentators offer little hope for recovery, at least in the short run. The economy is expected to contract by a further 6.1% in 2011 and 3% in 2012, while unemployment is projected to reach 18.5% in 2012 up from 7.7% in 2008. The Greek health-care system has been accumulating structural problems for a decade1 that have been exacerbated by the economic crisis. In terms of expenditure, a failure to contain costs, in part due to an absence of explicit funding criteria, created budget deficits for sickness funds. Although the system is highly centralized, resource allocation suffers from a lack of planning and coordination, weak managerial and administrative capacity, and underdeveloped mechanisms for assessing needs and setting priorities. In addition, an oversupply of specialist physicians coexists with an undersupply of general practitioners and nurses. The combination of an absence of a functioning referral system and irrational pricing and reimbursement mechanisms leads to poor coordination of care, large out-of-pocket payments and a sizable black economy, impeding the system's ability to deliver equitable financing and access to services.

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