Your Future In America Tomorrow in Greece Today: The Aspirin Shortage


If conservatives tried to tell people this would be happening in a Western democracy like Greece ten years ago, nobody would have believed us.

For patients and pharmacists in financially stricken Greece, even finding aspirin has turned into a headache.

Mina Mavrou, who runs a pharmacy in a middle-class Athens suburb, spends hours each day pleading with drugmakers, wholesalers and colleagues to hunt down medicines for clients. Life-saving drugs such as Sanofi (SAN)’s blood-thinner Clexane and GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK)’s asthma inhaler Flixotide often appear as lines of crimson data on pharmacists’ computer screens, meaning the products aren’t in stock or that pharmacists can’t order as many units as they need.

…The Panhellenic Association of Pharmacists reports shortages of almost half the country’s 500 most-used medicines. Even when drugs are available, pharmacists often must foot the bill up front, or patients simply do without.

…The reasons for the shortages are complex. One major cause is the Greek government, which sets prices for medicines. As part of an effort to cut its own costs, Greece has mandated lower drug prices in the past year. That has fed a secondary market, drug manufacturers contend, as wholesalers sell their shipments outside the country at higher prices than they can get within Greece.

Strained government finances only make matters worse. Wholesalers and pharmacists say the system suffers from a lack of liquidity, as public insurers delay payments to pharmacies, which in turn can’t pay suppliers on time.

“Wholesalers simply do not have the money anymore to play bank to the pharmacies,” Heinz Kobelt, secretary general of the European Association of Euro-Pharmaceutical Companies, said in a telephone interview.

In other words, Greece is broke and in danger of defaulting. That means the government doesn’t have the money it needs to buy drugs for the government-run health care system and because they’re such a risk, no one wants to loan money to the Greek government or Greek businesses. Government price controls nearly always create shortages, but in Greece’s case, there may be no choice. After all, when you’re simply out of money, you’re out of money.

Guess which other nation could very well be in a comparable situation in five to ten years unless we make some big changes soon? Here’s a hint: Think apple pie, baseball, red, white, blue and perhaps the least competent President in history in charge right now.

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