Greece: Maria has committed a ‘financial crime’…


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Maria P., 75, has just completed an angiogram and an ECG test at a private hospital in Athens. Angio and ECG are part of some eight to ten medical tests she has to undergo in order to find the reason for her “thing”. “I get a… thing” she says, “and nobody can explain where it comes from”.

The “thing” is a sudden tremor that grabs her body from time to time. Her legs and hands start shaking, her body gets stiff and freezing cold, freezing, her mouth gets dry, her eyes are open wide. Maria cries and screams at her daughter for help. She is in panic! As the panic slowly relieves, the daughter finds herself literally laying on top her mother’s in a struggling effort to calm her down and keep her warm.

The family doctor, who was called twice, blamed some pills that Maria takes for her chronic illness.  But he was not sure…

The daughter decides to consult some experts and find the best solution for her mother. The two women visit one of the state hospitals in Athens. There, they are told to come back when Maria has her seizures. This is a difficult, if not unmanageable task…

They consult again the family doctor. He has no clue but finally prescribes a series of medical tests. If the tests are performed at the clinics of IKA (State Social Security) Maria will most probably pay nothing or her financial contribution will be small. But IKA has a weird appointment system: One has to wait at least three weeks to get an appointment by a doctor. Maria and her daughter calculate that it will take them at least six months to find out what the issue is with the “thing”.
They decide to grab on Maria’s savings and go to a private hospital. Maria’s pension after 35 years of work is € 600.- ($763) per month. After expenses for food and home utilities there is not a single cent left at the end of every month. Maria had managed to save some 10.000 Euro for difficult times, like sickness, and her funeral.

So here they sit, Maria and her daughter, at cardiologist’s office at the private hospital. The doctor, a beauty at her middle 30’s, is very careful with the old and fragile lady. Maria has to consult an endocrinologist. The doctor suspects that  Maria suffers from hypothyroidism, a common disease among elderly.

The two women are not comfortable with hospital payment procedures so they ask the doctor about. “If you pay me directly it is 50, if at the cashier…  it will cost you 120 Euro”, the doctor answers calmly.

Without a second though Maria opens her wallet and hands out a 50-Euro note to the doctor. The doctor takes the brown paper money and hides it in her book agenda with  a soft move hides.  She smiles a goodbye to Maria and her daughter.

Maria completes the necessary medical tests at the hospital and the result is clear; she   suffers from hypothyroidism. It will be easily cured with tablets.

At the end of the month, Maria gets rid of her “thing” and 750 E of her savings. The receipts she collected in the process however over only 600 of the expenses. Had she insisted for receipts for all her medical expenses she would have spent at least 180 – 200  Euros more.

What would you have done, if you were Maria?

Today I read in the Greek newspaper Eleytherotypia that  3 out of 10 Greeks pay ‘fakelaki’ (bribes) to doctors working not only in public nut also in  private sector.

In year 2009 Maria spent 2.100 Euro from her savings to cover medical expenses, including a new dental bridge.

This year Maria realizes that her pension will be cut by 35%.  

Every evening, Maria sits in front of TV, yoghurt and two slices of bread at the coffee table to watch the Prime Time News. Maria listens speechless about the billions owed by the state and asks herself, like millions of Greeks, “Where did the money go?” She listens in awe about the new austerity measures, the VAT and tax increases and wonders how she will come along with her pension.

 Very often she watches the Minister in charge of cutting her pension.  She curses and she is glad nobody is around to listen.

 Maria worries about her future.  Maria worries but she won’t get panicked anymore. Against panic, she swallows every morning a small anti-thyroid tablet.

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