Major drug makers are reportedly working with European authorities on an emergency plan that would keep medicines flowing to Greece if the embattled country exits the eurozone.
Discussions have intensified in recent days, according to a report by Reuters, as regulators fear an exit may be imminent.
The talks, which include analyzing a similar experience in Argentina during its collapse in 2002, when some firms agreed to continue the supply of medicines temporarily without payment, is an effort to avoid a potential heath catastrophe should medical imports stop altogether.
The idea is to have an easy way to implement a short-term solution that would maintain the flow of medicines over a few months as the country falls out of the eurozone, a source close to the matter told Reuters.
Greece imports all of its medicines, with particular reliance on brand-name drugs, such as those made by European drug makers Novartis (NYSE:NVS), Roche, GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) and AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN), as opposed to cheaper generics.
The major pharmaceutical companies have been under pressure to continue supplying the drugs despite healthcare spending cuts that have made it difficult for hospitals to pay for the critical medicines. Many Greek patients are already struggling to reach prescription drugs.
PricewaterhouseCooper global pharmaceutical leader told Reuters that there’s a “moral obligation to continue to supply.”
However, sources in the report said any plan would likely only include critical medicines, as the drug companies - all-publicly traded - still have commitments to their boards and shareholders and need to protect their bottom lines.
Drug manufacturers are already owed 1.21 billion euros in unpaid bills from Greek state hospitals, according to Reuters.
Drug makers have taken a mixed approach to the growing debt. While some, like Denmark's Novo Nordisk, have demanded payment for delivery, others, like Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline, have not changed the terms of their business and aren’t demanding an immediate cash settlement.
Swiss-based Roche, the largest maker of cancer drugs, has been somewhat in the middle. Last year, it stopped delivering some medicines to state-owned hospitals with bad payment records and switched instead to more reliant pharmacies.