Cyprus Mail
Guest Columnist Opinion

Free healthcare comes at a price

Suddenly brands are not always available, the answer given is ‘Supplies have run out’

By Colette NiReamonn Ioannidou

Looks good, doesn’t it? A free health service, but how much is really free or are some areas robbing Peter to pay Paul?

In spite of so many complaints, the past system is already being recalled with affection by some old-timers who find the new one utterly confusing.

The elderly mostly favour routine and security of practise. Previously, they went to the outpatients’ clinics, paid their three euros, sat and grumbled at the time it was taking as they waited to see their doctor, got prescriptions on their books and paid a miniscule amount for bags of medical goods. They knew what their medicines were by brand and they got a plentiful supply to tide them over till next time. A gift! As was the tremendous help by the government to pay for operations at private practices of choice when there was a too-long waiting list for hospital staff to cope with.

Then Gesy arrived and the making of GP appointments, the waiting for someone to answer a phone to make said appointment and the time allotted that never meant what it said. More waiting, more grumbles; not much change there. They could be worse they thought, they could be really paying for these visits as they would have to in countries without such a service.

Their meds, however, no longer come from the care centre pharmacy for a few euros; they come from many pharmacies hosting the little Gesy sign on windows or doors. And suddenly, brands are not always available, the answer given ‘Supplies have run out.’ Then comes the but… and a big but it is. The brands available may not be on the Gesy list and, another but, it’s more expensive than the ones they are used to.

At times, a call to the doctor has to be made to ensure the alternative is suitable for their particular needs. On the Gesy list some common medications became wonderfully cheaper. My eye drops went from 13 euros previously to three, but – the pharmacies say – they ran out, and those available were more expensive (I was quoted the alternative at 15 euros). The eye wash needed to counteract the dryness caused by the first was practically nothing on the old scheme and, there’s but again, is not even on the Gesy list. I paid nearly eight euros for its replacement.

So, pensioners are left paying extra anyway as well as having none too generous pensions trimmed for subscription to Gesy when even a small amount, along with the added meds costs, cause budget balance anxiety.

The amount begins to look like a cheese full of holes as other expenses accumulate. One wonders if this stress may lead to more health problems among the elderly who need time to absorb change, time to adapt.

I’ve lost count of old-timers I’ve spoken to who are terrified now to go and ask for their meds because they fear they will cost more than they can afford. For some an extra 20 or 30 euros on prescriptions means that amount deducted from their food budget, and when something essential breaks down there are no savings to replace it. Not all are lucky enough to have a financial blanket covering them.

‘Who in the secure, overpaid public service measures how skinflint they can make an amount on which someone else is supposed to survive considering how the cost of living such as rents, utilities and foodstuffs for which general pensions has not increased, is rising?’ One old friend asked.

Is there the assumption in government services that Cypriot family values will automatically kick in to assist? What if a family is already strained and can’t do much to help? The Bank of Cyprus has – for the moment – withdrawn its threat to raise charges that would have affected many old folk who can’t use a computer. The intention to ‘train’ that demographic in how-to is a non starter as there are those who cannot contemplate working on a computer let alone online.

For many of us what we get in one hand is going out from the other and if belts need to be tightened any further, some of us may choke on an increasing sense of futility. There needs to be a more understanding attitude on behalf of those who govern our lives and retire on more than one pension in some cases, towards the poorer old and compare their scale with what bank and public staff expect as their elite pension right.

When I came here as a young woman in September, 1971 and started writing about an island so different to my own, I found it was about the old folk I most loved writing out of sheer admiration for their independence, their vitality, their work ethic, their devotion to family. Their spirit was indominitable. Now, an old age pensioner myself, mostly what I witness around me are old folk who are very scared that the country they knew and loved, is beginning to feel very, very alien indeed.

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