The long political dispute between the governments of two countries over the use of the name Macedonia has not stopped thousands of Greeks from crossing the border into Macedonia in search of bargains. Dental surgeries in Bitola and other towns report a tremendous increase in visits by Greek customers. Residents of northern Greece are flocking across the border to find less expensive dental care.
According to Greek dental associations, private practices have seen as much as a 50% drop in business due to dental excursions to Bitola, Gevgelija and Strumica. The main cause is the current economic crisis in Greece. As many as 1,500 Greeks a day cross the border during weekdays, and twice that at weekends, all seeking products and services, which include dental treatment. It is not known how many just go for dental care.
Georgios Xanthopoulos, president of Florina's dentist association says that local residents began making the 24km drive to Bitola for dental care in 2000, but with the economic crisis in Greece and problems with state-run dentistry, many more people are going elsewhere for lower prices. Many residents of the prefecture of Florina are insured by the civil servant's health fund, but the fund has frozen dental care reimbursements at 1994 prices. Although it costs around 50 euros to fill a tooth cavity, the state-run fund only pays beneficiaries 7 euros, while in Bitolathe the same procedure costs around 15 euros. Similarly, a fitted denture costs 1,000 to 1,200 euros in Florina and Kilkis, but as little as 300 euros in Bitola. A routine root canal procedure is only reimbursed to the tune of 20 euros by the public sector health fund, whereas a Greek dentist charges a minimum of 150 euros.
Greek dentists in the Florina and Kilkis regions all agree that the number of people going to them has fallen considerably, some say by up to half, because of lower prices available elsewhere. People are heading across the border on foot, as well as in organised coach tours and by cars. Greek dentists argue that facilities are better in Greece and that Greek practitioners are more experienced. CE certification exists in Greece for equipment, something that is not required in Macedonia because dentists there are not obliged to follow EU regulations and bylaws. But with the cost of living in general dramatically lower in Bitola compared to Florina, Greeks who have seen their salary cut and their living costs increased, have little choice but to seek the lowest price.
Aleksandar Ivanovski, owner of the Estadent dental practice in Bitola, reports that Greeks account for a large and increasing proportion of his practice, due to a combination of quality of service, lower prices and the economic crisis in Greece.