Athens approves health care reforms ahead of EU summit | News | DW | 01.03.2012
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Athens approves health care reforms ahead of EU summit

Greek lawmakers have cleared a series of changes to Greek health services, the final pre-condition set by Europe for a second emergency loan package. The early-morning vote came just hours before an EU leaders' summit.

The Greek parliament convened early Thursday morning and overwhelmingly approved a raft of reforms to the country's health care sector. Deputies passed the reforms by 213 votes to 58, with 17 abstentions.

The health care changes constituted the final precondition for further international Greek aid set by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Politicians in Athens had to convene early to ensure the vote went through ahead of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers and an EU leaders' summit, both taking place in Brussels on Thursday.

Greece had already approved the most significant of its outstanding "prior actions" on Tuesday, clearing 3.2 billion euros ($4.25 billion) in budget cuts, as well as a steep reduction of the minimum wage.

The reforms include extending pharmacy opening hours, developing a computerized prescription system designed to save money and mandating that more generic medicines be purchased to reduce treatment costs.

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Greece spends roughly 25 billion euros per year on health care, roughly 10 percent of its total economic output. European leaders saw this area as one where costs could be reduced. Cheaper generic drugs, for instance, make up 18 percent of the market in Greece, as opposed to about 80 percent in Germany. The new reforms aim to lift the Greek total closer to the European average of 50 percent.

Police had surrounded parliament as a precaution, anticipating further public protests, but no demonstrations were reported.

Greece is scrambling to qualify for a second package of international emergency loans worth 130 billion euros mostly funded by its European partners and the International Monetary Fund.

msh/acb (AFP, Reuters)

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