Staunton, May 15 – When Russians complain that their health care has deteriorated in recent years, the defenders of Vladimir Putin east and west typically dismiss such cries of despair as “anecdotal.” But they won’t be able to adopt the same strategy with new data published by the Russian State Statistical Committee (Rosstat).
Those data show, as Olga Solovyeva reports in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” that over the past three years, the share of Russians who are not satisfied with the quality of Russian medical institutions has increased by 30 percent and the fraction who do not consider that they can get effective care in them by 22 percent (ng.ru/economics/2015-05-15/4_rosstat.html).
Rosstat reports that the length of time Russians have to wait for necessary hospitalization has doubled, that the share of those who cannot get treatment had all has increased, and that public trust in the country’s medical facilities has declined significantly. These trends, Solovyeva says, “confirm” what others have said about Putin’s “optimization” efforts.
And over the same period, Rosstat reports, the number of Russians who think that the only way to get necessary treatment now is to pay for it has doubled, a trend that hits Russians who are already suffering from their country’s economic problems and that represents one of the most serious costs of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.
As Yana Vlasova, the vice president of the All-Russian Union of Patients Groups, points out, “not optimization,” not even when it is the result of efforts to balance the budget while paying for a war, “can be justified if as a result, it lowers the quality and accessibility of medical help” to the population, exactly what has happened since Putin invaded Ukraine.
Tragically, these reductions have led to an increase in the death rate among Russians. But instead of changing course, Russian officials up to and including Putin have adopted a fallback position, one that suggests the increasing number of deaths among Russians is in fact an indication of the success of Kremlin policies to increase life expectancy.
Yesterday, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist reports, Tatyana Yakovleva, a deputy health minister, made exactly that argument in her efforts to put the best face on the new figures, suggesting that because Moscow has succeeded in increasing life expectancies, there are now more people over 70 and thus more deaths.
Unfortunately, her conclusions are shared by Vladimir Putin, Solovyeva reports. Recently, the Kremlin leader said that “the increase in life expectancy has changed the structure of the population. The fraction of citizens of advanced age has increased. It is natural that elderly people will depart from life much more often than younger ones do.”
That is not a conclusion those whose friends and relatives have died because they could no longer gain access to necessary medical treatment are likely to find entirely reassuring or comforting.