Health Care In The Former Soviet Union

In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, in his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel drove home the point that one thing does not replace another, just like that, plain and simple.  Rather, that which has been is carried forward, moved from one level to another in an ongoing evolutionary process.  So it is with the Soviet Union; it is not dead, it lives, and still serves the interests of modern Russians.  I discussed this in relation to food and housing, and now I would like to discuss this in relation to health care.  Two stories this time, one of my own and one just told to me by my friend Alexi, who owns a printing company on the outskirts of Moscow.

My story:  Three years ago, as was walking slowly across the street, at the cross walk, on the zebra stripes, I was hit by a car.  As one sees in the movies I went up onto the hood, was propelled forward, landed about twelve feet away, tumbled like a doll before I stopped.  I was 69 at the time, and what happened could have been worse.  I could have been dead, but……

The ambulance came, an old and not very well equipped ambulance, but truthfully, I was in so much pain I could have cared less what it looked like.  They gave me painkiller, and medicine for my blood pressure.  I went to the hospital where they gave me a battery of tests and xrays.  Both my shoulders were disconnected, but they weren’t sure whether the left was broken.  Finally, I was given an MRI which showed my “ball joint” was chipped.  There is a name for it, but I don’t remember.  They reset my arms, an old woman bandaged my upper body in plaster…old fashioned plaster and gauze, and I was sent on my way.  What did my emergency visit cost me – nothing, absolutely nothing.  They didn’t even ask me for my passport.  It didn’t matter that I was American.  It cost me nothing.  So much for Putincare, or more properly for Soviet care which is alive and well in Putin’s Russia.

To be sure, if I were in America, I would have paid a lot of money for my emergency room visit.  I don’t know how much, but I know it would have been more than I could afford.  To be sure, I would have hired a lawyer and sued the driver.  To be sure, some years down the line, if I were still alive, I would have been awarded a considerable amount of money.  That is not the Soviet way.  You do not sue the driver, who is obligated only to pay for your medical bills.  My medical bills came to around two hundred dollars.  About fifty dollars for each doctor visit, and then the cost of a special sling when the cast was removed.  Litigation in Russia is not what it is in America, but neither is the cost of medical care.

Alexei tells me that his daughter got ill with what turned out to be a urinary tract infection when they were skiing in the French Alps.  He complains about how expensive it was.  The same tests run in Russia cost him about three Euros vs fifty in France.  In Moscow the test was done in the morning and the results came in the afternoon.  In France they waited two days.

He tells me about his father who just got back from Mineral Waters, a famous health resort set up during Soviet imes.  People routinely, often at their request, were sent there to drink the waters, rest, and eat lots of local lamb.  Today, one needs a doctor’s prescription, but the treatment is the same and the cost is the same…..absolutely nothing.

I am stunned by how cheap medicine is.  Ciproset, expensive in America and requiring a prescription, I buy over the counter here for 300 roubles, about five dollars, no prescription.  The same is true for all antibiotics.

I recently had to have a bridge replaced; three teeth.  The dentist urged me to get implants.  The cost, 165,000 rouble was asmall fortune for a poor Babushka, to be sure.  The rate of exchange as I speak is about 58 roubles to the dollar.  I went home to find my daughter too had gotten an implant – 10,000 American dollars for one front tooth.   Russian has become a medical tourism destination for dental care……..thanks to the Soviet Union – to the Red Star that still shines on the people of Putin’s Russia.

Mary Metzger is a New Yorker living in Russia


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One Comment

  1. Arun Mukherjee says:

    A very interesting story. We seldom hear any thing about the day to day life in Russia. Thank you for this vignette. Please publish more such stories.