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Syriza’s Ambitious Plan to Rescue the Greek Health System

Syriza is now in power, but what is the party’s plan for health and welfare, and how will it be achieved?

In 2010, the Greek economy entered a deep, structural and multi-faceted crisis, the main features of which were a large fiscal deficit, huge public debt and the continuous erosion of the country’s competitive position. In order to address the problem, the Greek government requested a support mechanism from the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), adopted a strict fiscal and income policy and increased direct and indirect taxes. In addition, flexibility in the labor market was increased and public spending was cut, especially in health, welfare and education.

After five years of austerity, this structural adjustment program has failed to deliver the expected results. Indicative of this is the fact that government deficit in 2013 reached 12.2% of gross domestic product (GDP); debt shot up to 174.9% of GDP; unemployment reached 27.5%; more than a third of the population (35.7%) is at risk of poverty or social exclusion; and the inequality of income distribution increased. Public health expenditure decreased by €4.2 billion between 2009-12, and more than 2.5 million people lost their health insurance.

The Four Pillars

In this context, Syriza’s election win came as no surprise. Based on an alternative policy proposal of a national reconstruction plan, the party put forward an optimistic vision that was desperately needed.

The plan focuses on four major pillars to reverse the social and economic disintegration, to reconstruct the economy and exit from the crisis. The four pillars are: confront the humanitarian crisis; restart the economy and promote tax justice; regain employment; and transform the political system to deepen democracy.

Measures to immediately confront the humanitarian crisis that has been happening in Greece include the provision of free electricity to households under the poverty line and meal subsidies to families without income. These have been a real problem in the day-to-day lives of many in Greece. Alongside these, Syriza has promised to provide free medical and pharmaceutical care for unemployed people without health insurance — a big problem in Greece that affects access to care.

Housing guarantees, rent subsidies, transport discounts for long-term unemployed and those under the poverty line aim to tackle issues related to poverty along with the restitution of the €12,000 annual income tax threshold and restoring the minimum wage to €751.

Health is a Priority

The health sector will be one of Syriza’s priorities, with an emphasis on securing access for the uninsured to health services, staffing the national health service with the recruitment of the necessary number of medical and nursing personnel and increasing the budget for health.

Primary health care is also a target, with an aim for a referral system based on general practitioners (GP) and primary health care teams. Promotion and prevention will be upgraded with the provision of school health programs, family planning and measures for public health. For public hospitals, Syriza advocates opening hospitals outside business hours for emergencies, in order to avoid long waits.

How Will This Be Achieved?

All of this will be done through an increase in public spending — something that is in sharp contrast with the provisions of austerity plan that Greece has been under. However, according to Syriza, the €11.4 billion cost of this is possible — to be covered by measures and procedures of settlement and clearance of arrears in taxes and social insurance contributions — by decisively combating tax evasion and smuggling, and by establishing a public development bank as well as of special-purpose banks financed from the so-called “comfort pillow” of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund and other specialized European instruments.

The most difficult task the party has will be to convince the EU and troika that a new European deal for Greece is needed in order to secure a socially viable solution to Greece’s debt problem. Only then will the country be able to pay off the remaining debt from the creation of new wealth and not from primary surpluses, which have only deprived society and deteriorated the human condition. The effort of the new Greek government will be successful if based on well documented policy proposals.

*[This article was originally published by The Conversation.]

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