Yuri N. Maltsev, who previously worked as an economist on Mikhail Gorbachev’s economic reform team before defecting to the United States, wrote recently on the ultimate government run healthcare system – healthcare in the USSR. After all, as he notes, in 1918, the Soviet Union became the first country to promise universal "cradle-to-grave" healthcare coverage, to be accomplished through the complete socialization of medicine. The "right to health" became a "constitutional right" of Soviet citizens." Sound familiar?
So. What happened?
The system had many decades to work, but widespread apathy and low quality of work paralyzed the healthcare system. In the depths of the socialist experiment, healthcare institutions in Russia were at least a hundred years behind the average US level. Moreover, the filth, odors, cats roaming the halls, drunken medical personnel, and absence of soap and cleaning supplies added to an overall impression of hopelessness and frustration that paralyzed the system. According to official Russian estimates, 78 percent of all AIDS victims in Russia contracted the virus through dirty needles or HIV-tainted blood in the state-run hospitals.
My friend, a famous neurosurgeon in today’s Russia, received a monthly salary of 150 rubles — one third of the average bus driver’s salary.
To improve the statistics concerning the numbers of people dying within the system, patients were routinely shoved out the door before taking their last breath.
I recall the case of a fourteen-year-old girl from my district who died of acute nephritis in a Moscow hospital. She died because a doctor decided that it was better to save "precious" X-ray film (imported by the Soviets for hard currency) instead of double-checking his diagnosis. These X-rays would have disproven his diagnosis of neuropathic pain. Instead, the doctor treated the teenager with a heat compress, which killed her almost instantly
After seventy years of socialism, 57 percent of all Russian hospitals did not have running hot water, and 36 percent of hospitals located in rural areas of Russia did not have water or sewage at all. Isn’t it amazing that socialist government, while developing space exploration and sophisticated weapons, would completely ignore the basic human needs of its citizens?
At the end of the socialist experiment, the official infant-mortality rate in Russia was more than 2.5 times as high as in the United States and more than five times that of Japan. The rate of 24.5 deaths per 1,000 live births was questioned recently by several deputies to the Russian Parliament, who claim that it is seven times higher than in the United States. This would make the Russian death rate 55 compared to the US rate of 8.1 per 1,000 live births. Having said that, I should make it clear that the United States has one of the highest rates of the industrialized world only because it counts all dead infants, including premature babies, which is where most of the fatalities occur. Most countries do not.