Nobody knows whether the action plan to tackle Gesy’s bad practices and squandering of the taxpayer’s money will prove effective, but it is step in the right direction. It is a long overdue admission by the health ministry and the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO), which administers the health scheme, that all is not well and that corrective measures are an imperative.
This is progress because until a few weeks ago anyone that dared to talk about the squandering of public money, the abuses by health providers and the complete lack of checks and controls of the system was accused of wanting to close down Gesy, of serving the interests of insurance companies or wanting to deprive people of free healthcare. Gesy was untouchable with journalists, politicians and the HIO, its self-appointed defenders who pilloried its critics.
Even the auditor-general, Odysseas Michaelides, who is usually above criticism, came under fire when he released his report about the abuses by doctors as well as the bad practices of the HIO and its blatant violations of the provisions of the law governing Gesy. Michaelides became a target as did Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides for warning repeatedly that if spending was not brought under control the system would collapse taking down with it public finances.
The authorities could not ignore the law-breaking, once it was confirmed by the attorney-general. The HIO could no longer occupy the moral high ground, posing as the great benefactor of the people, offering free healthcare to all. Not only had it offered absurd remuneration terms to personal doctors, according to Michaelides it carried out checks on only three per cent of the pay claims, worth hundreds of millions of euros it processed. It was spending money as if it had inexhaustible funds and such was its arrogance it also knowingly violated the law, allowing doctors outside Gesy to work in Gesy private hospitals.
Health minister Michalis Hadjipantelas was finally forced to act. On Tuesday he met the HIO top brass and bashed out the action plan for the rational management of Gesy. External auditors would be brought in to check payments, sanctions against doctors abusing the system would be imposed and the HIO will renegotiate work terms of personal doctors by introducing qualitative criteria. The illegality of non-Gesy doctors working in Gesy hospitals will also be tackled.
These are positive steps if they are implemented, but arguably the most effective way of monitoring payments and abuses, without requiring the employment of hundreds more staff, must be through a specially developed software programme. Why is the HIO not exploring this option as well? Nowadays, checks of payment processes are carried out by software that manages complex data. Hadjipantelas should bring this up at his next meeting with the HIO, because the more checks and controls are in place, the less money will be wasted.