Life has a price in Greece today. It is worth just 25 Euros, or about $35.
That's the price of admission to a public hospital since the beginning of the year. And it only gets your foot in the door, with other fees that follow.
So, when a 60-year-old, out-of-work citizen with cancer was recently sent, barely conscious, to a public hospital by doctors at the free Community Clinic, he could not produce the mandated 25 Euros and was turned away. He died a few hours later.
He was not the first one to die, and from the looks of it, will not be the last.
I visited the Community Clinic, established and run by volunteer doctors, nurses and lay people of the city where I live. The queue of sick people stretches for over a block.
I ask if any of them have 25 Euros in their pocket, but they do not. Five maybe? Again: No. One of the clinic's doctors told me there are many people with life threatening but treatable illnesses. "If we can just get them for a few days in the hospital we could save them, but..."
The current Greek Minister of Health, Adonis Georgiadis, is leading the dismantling of the nation's public health system, in an effort to satisfy Greece's lenders who demand "fiscal discipline" and a privately-run, American-style health care system.
Georgiadis spoke about the new hospital admittance fee following the much-publicized death of the 60-year-old, cancer-stricken man, calling the newly-instituted 25 Euro fee "peanuts." (The Greek colloquialism is actually "hair," which seems a lot less than peanuts.) One day after his statement, Georgiadis sent the health department to try and shut down the free Community Clinic for causing him such embarrassment.
Things were different just a few months ago. My wife Mary, a U.S. citizen, had an accident. She went to a nearby public clinic where a physician gave her an anesthetic and sewed her torn finger. She had two subsequent bandage changes, and a nurse removed her stitches during a third visit.
She paid 5 Euros for all of this, and only because she had no health insurance. The antibiotic medication cost another 7 Euros. By comparison, had she been injured without insurance in the U.S., this whole procedure would have cost at least $500, if not much more.
It seems clear now that the U.S. model of privatized health care is taking over Greece, in the midst of an unparalleled humanitarian crisis and mass unemployment across all of Europe. Yet, the leaders of European capitalism and our banking elite regard this gaping wound with soulless eyes and heartless inaction.
Their procedure was successful. The patient is dead, and more will be joining him soon.
Nikos Ladopoulos is a Greek-American freelance writer.