Objectives: Given the many profound health care problems facing Russia and the other former Soviet republics, there are a number of fundamental policy questions that deserve close attention as part of the reform process.
Methods: Summary data regarding Soviet health care issues were drawn from government agency reports, scholarly books and journals, recent press reports, and the authors' personal research.
Results: Smoking, alcohol, accidents, poor sanitation, inadequate nutrition, and extensive environmental pollution contribute to illness and premature mortality in Russia and the other newly independent states. Hospitals and clinics are poorly maintained and equipped; most physicians are poorly trained and inadequately paid; and there is essentially no system of quality management. While efforts at reform, which emphasize shifting to a system of "insurance medicine," have been largely unsuccessful, they have raised several important policy issues that warrant extensive research and discussion.
Conclusions: Without considering the implications and consequences of alternative policy directions, Russia and the other states face the very real possibility of developing health care systems that improve the overall level of care but also incorporate limited access and escalating costs. Russian health care reform leaders can learn from the health care successes in the West and avoid repeating our mistakes.