The simple idea of rationing appears unacceptable both for the relatively poor “socialist” health care in Russia and for the most expensive USA health care. In Russia the idea of rationing is unacceptable, because the Constitution promises free and unlimited medical care. Therefore, discussion is blocked from the top. In the USA the idea is unacceptable, because citizens are understood as having the right to free choice of legal access to any care, without intervention of a ‘death jury’.
We analyse the similarities and differences in the arguments rejecting explicit rationing in health care in the USA and Russia. We describe the legal framework in Russia related to rationing, and the results of a qualitative study of the understanding of the concept of rationing by Russian doctors and of the practices in Russian health care organizations to limit the use of expensive diagnostic and treatment options.
While the Russian Constitution promises free medical care, unlimited, legally there are limits imposed by the quota of specific treatments, limited access to care abroad, and problematic access to drugs not included on the essential drug list for inpatient care. Explicit rationing is not rejected by society or by the medical profession. In medical organizations the more explicit techniques are a second opinion by a committee (physicians’ commission), especially in the case of prescription of drugs and diagnostic tests. Physicians tend to behave as medical professionals do: provide more care to people in greater need.
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