Checklist for reforms in the healthcare sector: purchasing, provision, delivery, commissioning, and stewardship. Detailed case studies from Germany and Eastern Europe.
Transition has trimmed Russian life expectancy by well over a decade. People lead brutish and nasty lives only to expire in their prime, often inebriated. In the republics of former Yugoslavia, respiratory and digestive tract diseases run amok. Stress and pollution conspire to reap a grim harvest throughout the wastelands of eastern Europe. The rate of Tuberculosis in Romania exceeds that of sub-Saharan Africa.
As income deteriorated, plunging people into abject poverty, they found it increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Crumbling healthcare systems, ridden by corruption and cronyism, ceased to provide even the appearance of rudimentary health services. The number of women who die at - ever rarer - childbirth skyrocketed.
Healthcare under communism was a public good, equitably provided by benevolent governments. At least in theory. Reality was drearier and drabber. Doctors often extorted bribes from hapless patients in return for accelerated or better medical treatment.
Country folk were forced to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest city to receive the most basic care. Medical degrees were - and still are - up for sale to the highest, or most well-connected, bidder. Management was venal and amateurish, as it has remained to this very day.
Hospital beds were abundant - not so preventive medicine and ambulatory care. One notable exception is Estonia where the law requires scheduled prophylactic exams and environmental assessment of health measures in the workplace.
Even before the demise of central healthcare provision, some countries in east Europe experimented with medical insurance schemes, or with universal healthcare insurance. Others provided healthcare only through and at the workplace. But as national output and government budgets imploded, even this ceased abruptly.
Hospitals and other facilities are left to rot for lack of maintenance or shut down altogether. The much slashed government paid remuneration of over-worked medical staff was devoured by hyperinflation and stagnated ever since. Equipment falls into disrepair. Libraries stock on tattered archaic tomes.
Medicines and other substances - from cultures to vaccines to immunological markers - are no longer affordable and thus permanently in short supply. The rich monopolize the little that is left, or travel abroad in search of cure. The poor languish and die.
Healthcare provision in east Europe is irrational. In the healthcare chapter of a report prepared by IRIS Center in the University of Maryland for USAID, it says:
"In view of the fall in income and government revenue, there is a need for more accurate targeting of health care (for instance, more emphasis on preventive and primary care, rather than tertiary care), and generally more efficient use of benefits (e.g., financing spa attendance by Russian workers can be cut in favor of more widespread vaccination and public education). As the formal privatization (much is already informally privatized) of health care proceeds, and health insurance systems are developed, health care access for poverty-stricken groups and individuals needs to be provided in a more reliable and systematic way."
But this is hard to achieve when even the token salaries of healthcare workers go unpaid for months. Interfax reported on March 9 that 41 of Russia's 89 regions owe their healthcare force back wages. Unions are bereft of resources and singularly inefficacious.