Italian payment practices
Late payments are an Italian speciality—particularly in health care
IN MEDICINE speed is of the essence.
If the ambulance arrives a minute late, the patient may be dead.
Italian paramedics are no doubt as swift as those in other countries.
But Italy's health-care authorities are shamefully slow when it comes to paying suppliers—making it difficult for them to survive.
We're still waiting to be paid for goods sold in 2009, says Stefano Rimondi, the managing director of Bellco, a maker of equipment for dialysis with revenues of more than 100m and a workforce of 360 people.
We have one employee working full-time chasing up late payers, he adds.
Bellco is not the only company to suffer.
The 250 other members of Assobiomedica, a trade group for firms that supply medical equipment, are owed 5.6 billion;
those of Farmindustria, which represents 200 pharmaceutical firms, are waiting for 4 billion.
The farther south you look, the longer the delays in payment.
The Friuli and Trentino-Alto Adige regions in north-eastern Italy and Valle d'Aosta in the north-west settle bills after about three months.
在意大利东北部的Friuli 和Trentino-Alto Adige区域，以及在西北部的Valle d'Aosta都在三个月后支付账单。
The regions of Calabria and Molise pay on average after two years.
Calabria 和 Molise区的人平均两年后才付账。
The record is held by one Neapolitan health authority:
some of its suppliers have been waiting for more than four-and-a-half years.
Small Italian firms that rely on the home market are hit particularly hard.
Often they cannot get bank financing at reasonable interest rates.
And long delays in payment create all kinds of tax and accounting headaches.
Suing late-payers doesn't help much.
Courts are at least as slow as health-care authorities.
In five regions a law even blocks the use of courts to compel authorities to cough up.
Once we were able to recover about 5m of interest a year, but now we've had to give up, says the executive of a large American drugmaker, which had started to take legal action in 2007.
Pharmaceutical firms cannot simply stay clear of the worst offenders:
they are legally required to supply drugs even to notoriously slow authorities.
Desperate measures are also unlikely to help.
Starting a boycott of late-paying authorities could trigger an antitrust investigation.
And paying sweeteners to move invoices to the top of the list can land you behind bars.
Some suppliers are pinning their hopes on new European Union legislation which requires health-care authorities to settle bills within 60 days;
it takes effect in March next year.
Yet Mr Rimondi would be shocked if things improved:
Some clause will be dreamed up so that the directive can be dodged in Italy.