February 20, 2016
Today in the Greek Parliament a much-needed program passed. The government introduced a part of its “parallel program” aimed to give access to healthcare services for 2,5 million Greeks, not covered by any social security scheme.
The new law foresees health coverage for vulnerable social groups, i.e. pregnant women, children, mentally ill, drug addicts, chronically ill people, regardless of their legal status. The program also covers refugees and undocumented immigrants, securing that themselves as well will be equally treated.
The program introduces incentives to medical personnel and doctors to seek recruitment in under-populated, distant from urban centers areas, facilitating the process with the creation of Recruitment Councils that bypass foot-dragging bureaucracy. Furthermore, the program includes the establishment of Patient Rights Bureau in public hospitals to address complaints and cases of bribery. In this respect, the Ministry of Health intends to re-organize Disciplinary and Monitoring Boards to combat corruption.
The parallel program was fiercely fought by the creditors and the opposition parties back in December 2015. At that time the government was forced to withdraw it given the delicate state of negotiations with the creditors over the release of a bailout tranche. New Democracy and PASOK unveiled the major goals of the program to certain sources related to the creditors even before the submission to the relevant parliamentary committees, pointing out that the program was against what the government has agreed to with the institutions in July.
After two months of delay, the Syriza-led government brought the program back for consultation in the Parliament, ignoring the persistent pressure from the creditors. Today the law passed, but all opposition parties voted against. The stance of the parties is revealing of the depth of fragmentation in domestic politics and another proof that Greece has a long way to go to overcome the crisis with such a political personnel.
The Parallel Program is one of the most important legislative initiatives made these years of austerity, along with the humanitarian crisis bill voted last year. Both bills were voted by the Syriza-led government that tries to balance between a fiscal consolidation program, a broad reform agenda, and the provision of minimum social justice. A literally tough task whatsoever.
Follow Dimitris Rapidis on Twitter: @rapidisDimitris Rapidis