NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Russian Health Care Needs a Transfusion

March 5, 2004

Prior to the Soviet Union's collapse, citizens received free health care, which was guaranteed by the constitution. Now, a little over a decade later, Russia's public-health care system is in a state of national emergency, the likes of which will shrink the labor pool and reduce productivity, say economists.

For example:

  • Every year nearly a million more Russians die than are born; even with surging immigration, mostly from former Soviet republics, Russia's population has dropped from 147 million in 1989 to 145 million last year, and by 2050 it could fall as low as 100 million.
  • Life expectancy among men -- who have been hit especially hard by alcoholism and heart disease -- has dropped by five years in that period to 58.5, the lowest level in the developed world.
  • Russia spends approximately $100 per-capita per year on health care for residents of Moscow, and approximately $50 dollars for citizens in the outskirts of Moscow; comparatively, the United Kingdom spends $1,340; France $2,000; Germany $2,300 and the United States $3,530.
  • To make matters worse, the cost of treating the nation's looming AIDS crisis and the resulting drain on the work force will shave 10 percent off the country's gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010 if the system isn't reformed.
  • Russia spends only 5.3 percent of GDP on health care, 3.8 percent comes from public spending and 1.5 percent from out-of-pocket expenses.

Experts proclaim that the government needs to scale back free care, boost the role of private insurance and drastically increase the number of general practice doctors. They also suggest that inefficient hospitals should be closed and funds reallocated to the best institutions and workers. Currently, Russian officials are drafting a plan to overhaul the system.

Source: Jeanne Whalen, "Russia's Health Care is Crumbling," Wall Street Journal, February 13, 2004.


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