The Greek Health Ministry has drafted a new law that aims to cut bureaucracy and make prescription medicines in the country more readily available. The measure -- which is set for approval in October -- could abolish the government's list of drugs reimbursed by state hospitals and social security systems.

The Greek government's positive list, introduced in 1998, is widely seen as a failure. Under the existing system, patients are obliged to pay up front, and wait at pharmacy counters while their prescription is checked for reimbursement against the social security funds' list. A new computerised system will be introduced in the retail sector, which will also be free to dispense high-value cancer drugs and ARVs, currently only available in state hospitals.

The new legislation comes at a time when one doctor has been convicted of illegally re-selling hospital supplies of HIV/AIDS drugs. Prosecutors claim the scam earned those involved some EUR6mn (US$7.48mn). Meanwhile, Greek companies have recently been implicated in European Union (EU) court cases alleging illicit parallel trading.

The government claims that the proposed changes will simplify Greece's reimbursement system, boost patient choice and reduce state spending. However, it is yet to be seen whether Greece's reimbursement structure will be significantly improved. Greece's drug market is one of the least developed in the EU, and was worth around EUR3.9bn (US$4.86bn) in 2005. Sales should reach EUR5bn (US$6.23bn) by the end of 2009.