Posted on Aug 21, 2012 by Sergio Ulloa
Teetering on the brink of economic collapse is Greece, the land of ancient mythological deities, and like the Gods before them hopes and beliefs in a timely turnabout for the Greek economy are dwindling hastily. At hand is the issue of the Eurozone: does Greece stay within and keep the Euro, or will it revert back to the obsolete drachma, the original Grecian currency which existed prior to 2001?
If the Eurozone were to retract it's inclusion of Greece, there could be drastic effects which affect not only Greece, but the entire Eurozone as well. Specifically, the once-Eurozone-greats of Spain, Italy, and Portugal, who similarly share severely weakened economies, are significantly at risk should the Greek make an exit. It is ironic that the four major players pulling down the system are Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain - bearing the acronym of PIGS.
What are some of the possible issues at hand? How will the lifestyle and welfare of the residents be affected? And something more topical, with the state of Greece's public funding slashed, what will happen to healthcare and health insurance?
Should the Greek system withdraw its participation in the Eurozone, there will be widespread effects across economies not just in the Eurozone, but around the world as well. In preparation for the withdrawal, the Greek banks will probably limit the amount that a person can withdraw from their bank accounts to prevent a bank run and a collapse of Greek banks. Greeks will need to endure the changeover of their currency from Euros to drachma as well as the subsequent devaluation of the drachma. The Euro will most likely be converted to the drachma at a pre-defined rate which will remain fixed for the duration of the changeover. As it stands, the exchange rate, which was revised in April of 2012, stood at 1:340.75. There is a glimmer of hope: many sophisticated investors and those with significant savings have already shifted their funds out of their Greek banks into foreign banks. What this means is that if Greece were to recover, the money is ready to come back in, without experiencing a dismal devaluation.
Once Greece exits, there will be defaults on their debt, which still hold their face values in Euro dollars. Even with 95 billion euros of the debts face value wiped, it still represents almost 265 billion euros. But what kind of implications will that have on the other countries whose economies are also at risk? Spain, Portugal and Italy's liquidity is affected significantly due to investor fears of economic collapse and worries about debt repayment. Since all three countries require debt financing and liquidity for day-to-day activities, the loss of foreign investments can cause serious liquidity issues. The financial health of these countries could be in considerable trouble, especially since Italy and Portugal carry a considerable amount of debt - with inabilities to pay off the interest payments on loans and bonds, both countries could default. Currently, both countries owe more than their annual GDP.
If it turns out that Greece needs to roll in the new currency, the drachma, the currency that most likely will replace the Greek Euro, will take time to officially come into place. Experts predict that it will take four months until the currency is printed and entered back into circulation. Until then, monies held in bank accounts will likely be changed immediately, while the physical Euro, or at least those denoted by a Y which is the Greek country code, will still be accepted with those.
After the drachma is returned to the Greeks, what will likely happen is inflation, or worse, hyperinflation - you may have seen those old photos of people carrying a wheel barrel of cash just to buy a loaf of bread, or starting a fire with the local currency. If hyperinflation takes place, and this may become a reality for the Greeks should the drachma drastically devalue after its introduction, a basket of goods does not. The relative value of a drachma compared to that basket of goods will widen, resulting in the price of goods soaring.
Moreover, as the drachma is worth less and less, imports become exponentially more expensive. This is not good news for Greece as it is a net import state - Greece imports more than it exports, including food. Conversely, exports will receive a great benefit from the devaluation as one of Greece's biggest export, tourism, will surely rise due to inexpensive holidays and cheap money.
Inflation, or hyperinflation, will cause Greece to be highly unaffordable for many of those struggling amidst the grip of unemployment; stability in the region will be hard to attain until the government gets back on its feet and is able to borrow again. Residents of Greece may leave the country in a bid to reduce the effect of the devaluation, but measures may be put in place to restrict some of these movements, including provisions on bank account withdrawals.
Compounding the damage is the cut in public spending and governmental policies which affect the business community. Specifically, a lowered minimum wage will have negative effects on residents' ability to afford goods, making daily necessities difficult to attain. Greece's two-tiered wage cut, was disproportionately hard on the younger generation, with the minimum wage for those under 25 cut 32 percent, instead of 22 percent. The effects of this and other cuts are being felt more acutely as goods become more expensive. As there are proponents of a spending method to get out of a recession, it seems like this is almost an impossible option for Greece at the moment whose debt outpaces its GDP by over 170%.
Businesses may begin to fail - their ability to borrow money and to keep a sufficient flow of business will be seriously affected by the devaluation of drachma. Furthermore, as citizens concerns start to turn towards more essential goods, such as accommodation, food, and other necessities, relative luxury goods and services become less important in their lives. Businesses suffer due to the lack of demand for their goods and may be forced to close doors.
And what about the necessities of healthcare and the ability to receive healthcare? Already, hospitals all over Greece are feeling a financial asphyxiation which is being transferred to the patients. Supplies are low and resources are lower. As public benefits decline, people increasingly turn to the public hospitals to receive treatment where the waits are long but the prices are lower. Significant changes have been made to treatment policies, allowing only for serious cases to be treated in a timely manner, or at all. There have been numerous reports of supplies being stolen, especially syringes and gloves.
Citizens' ability to receive healthcare will be negatively impacted and will continue to worsen as the burden on health services is driven by the declining health of citizens. Wait times will be compounded as hospitals are flooded with demand for healthcare and an increasing lack of personnel and resources to service them. Doctors and nurses may flee to private hospitals or other countries in the wake of cuts to benefits, increases to workload and the potential of frozen salaries.
The medical system is already beginning to collapse. Big Pharmaceutical companies are refusing to provide medication because of the inability of hospitals and clinics to pay. In some cases, doctors and nurses are providing healthcare and treatment with no pay and can endure such a lifestyle for only so long.
Medical insurance will be equally negatively impacted in the near future. As businesses feel the increasing effects of the slowdown, so will local health insurers as business functions are hampered by inabilities to borrow and inflation makes existing or collected premiums insufficient for providing coverage. Moreover, premiums collected before the collapse may be converted to the drachma from the Euro and may not be enough to cover the cost of providing healthcare once devaluation sets in. Premiums will probably need to rise in order to keep pace and many may cancel their plans and opt for basic health coverage through the government because they cannot afford to keep up with the increasing premiums. This is under the assumption that the Greek government will continue to provide subsidized health coverage - under austerity measures, subsidized health coverage could very well be one of the earlier things that a government will cut. This will likely result in the collapse of many local health insurers, leaving those previously insured with them without coverage.
As for international health insurance in Greece, premiums for new plans should increase. Since premiums are calculated based on a community rating, the risk profile for those in Greece is increasing alongside the cost of providing healthcare in Greece. Those who do not have health insurance should consider purchasing an international health insurance plan prior to any change in currency that may take place. The plan will be good for the year before the devaluation takes effect, resulting in confirmed coverage for the higher costs of healthcare. It will be a money saving route for the long run. As for existing international health insurance premiums, they too will probably increase in the coming years because it will be costlier to provide healthcare in the country given the lack of supplies or credit to purchase them, as well as the possible need for more people to travel abroad to seek treatment. Furthermore, the health of the residents may continue to decline, resulting in a riskier health profile to the insurance companies, especially since big pharmaceutical companies are wary of providing more supplies on credit.
This makes acquiring an international health insurance policy in Greece much more attractive now rather than later. Before the conditions are unfavorable for you to acquire insurance, acquiring now is a safe way to hedge your bets against both financial and healthcare problems in the future.
There is salvation in sight: with the devaluation of the drachma, many exports become significantly more inexpensive across the world. This makes Greeks exports attractive, helping the country get on its way to recover. However, if the country does not exit the Euro, recovery could be long and arduous.
With Greece controlling its own currency and fiscal policies, it can make provisions and decisions which can bring it out of its slump faster. For example, if Greece wanted to increase its exports, it could further devalue its currency by printing more of it. In addition, Greece has free reign to set its own interest rates, which could facilitate lending and financing throughout the region.
Argentina and Latvia are similar examples of the two options which Greece is faced with: stay with the old currency or move on to their own. Argentina was pegged to the US dollar and Latvia is part of the Eurozone. When faced with their financial meltdowns, Argentina opted to discard the pegging and Latvia decided to stay with the Euro.
What happened was Argentina's peso devalued significantly and unemployment soared, as did inflation. But quickly after, Argentina crawled out of their depression and reached their peak output levels in just a few years. In contrast, Latvia struggled significantly while under the Euro and GDP growth plunged to the deep negatives. Living conditions continued to decrease and is projected to start recovering in the coming years.