Posted: 06.12.2023 10:46:00

Not everything is healthy that is expensive

In international rankings, Belarus is ahead of many Western countries in terms of accessibility and quality of healthcare services

The level of health care is an important indicator of public well-being. However, here is a paradox: in a number of Western countries with very advanced technologies in the field of healthcare, the achievements of medical science and practice extend only to a select few. More precisely, for those who can afford them. Various international organisations have been trying to solve the problem of such social injustice for years. However, the world is still missing one of the most important Sustainable Development Goals: universal health coverage. The reasons for this lag are more or less understandable in regions where the level of poverty is off the charts and there is simply nowhere, nothing and no one to treat. However, even in rich countries, highly qualified medical care is an unaffordable luxury for some. Indeed, in severe cases, insurance medicine can drive a person into debt that will have to be repaid throughout his life. Fortunately, Belarusians know about such stories only by hearsay. Our health is under state protection.

Darya Titova

As Americans, for example, joke, in the USA it’s good to make money and not get sick, but if you get sick, it’s better to emigrate. An interesting judgment, especially considering that US doctors are among the most highly qualified specialists in the world. However, medicine in the United States is first and foremost a business. A country of declared equal opportunities, unfortunately, does not guarantee universal access to health care services. The person will be taken care of strictly within the framework of his insurance policy. Each type of insurance has its own tariff plan with a corresponding range of services. From ‘economy’ to ‘platinum’ options. Whichever one can afford. For everything that is ‘outside the tariff’ you will have to pay. Of course, not every American is able to afford premium-level insurance that can cover, say, an expensive operation or long-term and complex treatment. While no one is immune from serious health problems.
Health experts say the crazy prices for medical services in the United States are the result of distorted pricing. Medicine in America is perhaps the most inflation-prone area. The uncontrolled race for profit gives rise to ever new methods of increasing it. The state interferes minimally in these issues. The medical billing system alone is a labyrinth. Administrative costs for personnel and software are growing by leaps and bounds, increasing the zeros in insurance policies. In addition, the so-called ‘defencive’ principle of providing health care services raises the tariff bar. It is common practice for doctors to order many unnecessary additional examinations in order to prevent possible lawsuits from patients and insurance companies in case of error.

The astronomical cost of health care does not equate to its affordability. Only certain categories of citizens can count on government policies like Medicare and Medicaid in the United States. As they say, if you’re drowning, you’re on your own. COVID-19 is a good example. Let us recall that despite the statements of the federal authorities about the highest preparedness for any epidemics, the ‘viral’ story showed a slightly different picture. Western health care, and not just in the United States, simply stalled when faced with an emergency situation. There simply weren’t enough places in the hospitals of American and European clinics. The patients were placed wherever necessary. Specialists barely had time to consult patients over the phone. Life-saving equipment became the subject of speculation. The panic and excitement that took over society at that moment was a natural result. It is unprofitable to keep a ‘spare’ staff of doctors, medicines, and ventilators for ‘every firefighter’ in an insurance system of medical services concentrated in private hands. Who will pay for this? The goal of a business is to make a profit, and not to increase costs and financial risks. The result of the ‘commercial’ approach is an incredible number of people getting sick and dying during the pandemic.
For comparison, the domestic healthcare system survived the battle with COVID-19 and proved its viability even in such a difficult situation. Despite the crazy workload on doctors, everyone who needed it received professional help. The bed capacity was urgently repurposed for the red zone. Other specialised specialists came to the aid of the therapists. However, the planned treatment of the remaining patients did not stop. In Belarusian clinics it was not the financial situation that was saved, but lives. By prioritising the general over the specific in social issues, Belarus is closer than many others to the UN goal of universal health coverage. In particular, according to the index of accessibility of healthcare services, according to the latest WHO data, Belarus is ahead of many EU countries and the USA.
The national health care system is unique in its own way. Every Belarusian, regardless of income, has the opportunity to receive any type of medical care free of charge — from primary to the most high-tech and expensive. For example, according to statistics on the number of organ transplants per 1 million population, Belarus is a leader not only in the post-Soviet space, but is also ahead of many European countries. No other country in the world can boast such a wide range of free and high-quality medical services.
Achievements in the field of maternal and child health, innovative approaches to the treatment of complex diseases in our country are not an object of purchase and sale, but the property of the entire society. However, the patient’s path to high technology begins at the local level. As WHO has analysed, in a number of countries, primary health care is simply a disaster. This is understandable: these services are more difficult to convert into profit. Meanwhile, international experts argue that the majority (up to 90 percent) of essential health interventions can be carried out through the primary health care system. Therefore, special attention is paid to its development in Belarus. As they say, this is a matter of policy of government priorities. The economic effect of the medical business is immediate. Investments in the health of citizens, and therefore in the future of the country, are a strategic task.

By Tatiana Shchedrenok