Health Care Around the World International Health Care Systems

Health Care Around the World: Greece

Greece has an employer-based health insurance system in which all Greek employers enroll their employees in one of the “social insurance funds.” Due to strict regulation by the Greek Ministry of Social Health and Cohesion, Greece in essence has a single payer system. For instance, the Ministry controls employee contribution rates, insurance benefit packages, and the types of doctors a social insurance fund can employee. Also, employers can not choose among competing sickness funds as they can in Germany, they must choose an their industry-specific social insurance fund.

The National Health Service (NHS) also operates its own health care services. For instance the NHS operates hospitals and employs some physicians. One can see the NHS as a backup for the social insurance funds, but in some rural areas, the NHS is the principal provider of care.

Percent Insured. Similar to the U.S., only 83% of Greeks have health insurance covering primary care. Most Greeks (97%) do have health insurance for hospital care.

Funding. In Tanner’s opinion, “the Greek health care system is funded through payroll taxes, general tax revenue and bribery.” (see below)

Private Insurance. About 8% of Greeks have private health insurance but this number has been growing rapidly in recent years.

Physician Compensation. About half of physicians are employed directly by the social insurance fund. The other half are in private practice, but are contracted on a fee-for-service basis by the insurance funds. Unlike in France, no balance billing is allowed. Despite this fact, many physicians demand under the table payments in exchange for treatment. Further, physicians often “actively attempt to persuade patients to move from a doctor’s sickness fund contract to the doctor’s private practice. Patients who switch pay out of pocket but receive faster and better care.”

Physician Choice. Greeks must have a referral from a GP in order to receive care at a public or NHS hospital.

Copayment/Deductibles. In theory, there are no deductible or copayments. In reality, the need to make informal payments to providers means that most patients incur significant out of pocket expenses. In fact, one estimate claimed that informal out-of-pocket payments make up 42% of healthcare expenditures.

Technology/Quality. Hospital administrators are appointed not based on merit, but instead based on their political affiliation. Because of this, many hospitals suffer from poor quality. Pay for doctors and nurses is fairly low and thus there are severe staffing shortages. In NHS hospitals, “it has been estimated that less than half of authorized medical positions are actually filled.” The U.S. has twice as many MRI units per capita and 20% more CT units per capita.

Waiting Times. Wait times for medical care are very long in Greece. This is likely due to the provider shortages caused by low reimbursement rates. The wait for treatment at both public and NHS hospitals can be very long. There is a six month wait for some surgeries and the wait for appointments with specialists can be as long as 150 days. Simple blood tests often take a month.

Corruption and Inequality. There is significant corruption and inequality in the Greek system. For instance, some funds, known as “noble funds” have more extensive benefits and lower worker contributions. The reason for this is that strong worker unions are able to use their political clout to get a better deal for their workers at the expense of workers in other industries. Also, most doctors demand under the table payments in order to see patients or if patients want higher quality care. Further, many doctors receive kickbacks for referrals to private hospitals and diagnostic centers.

We can see that the centralized system of Greece is breaking down. Individuals are demanding higher quality care, but due to government rationing, significant corruption is occurring.


  1. “We can see that the centralized system of Greece is breaking down. Individuals are demanding higher quality care, but due to government rationing, significant corruption is occurring.”

    Greece’s health care system is a mixture of both the Bismarck and the Beveridge models. These models although far from perfect work adequately well in countries such as the UK, Germany and France. In all 3 countries government rationing exists as well but their systems do not face extensive corruption and certainly they are not breaking down. In addition, Greece is ranked 14th on the WHO Health Care Rankings (2000) outperforming both the UK and Germany (as well as the US) and despite all the problems and the “far less modern health care technologies used compared with the United States” life expectancy is among the best in the world. How do you explain all that?

    I am sorry to say that your bottom line is flawed. The problems that are mentioned truly exist but their extent is more due to other factors and less from government rationing. I would suggest you to do some more research before you comment.

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