Russians travel to Alaska to learn about free-market health care

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Ten health care professionals from the Russian Far East are coming to Anchorage next month to learn more about how to provide health care in a market economy.

The nonprofit American Russian Center on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus is hosting visitors from the cities of Yakutsk, Khabarovsk and Birobidjan. The center functions essentially as a capitalism college for visiting Russians.

The health care system in Russia is still struggling to cope with the country's transition to a market economy and good medical care is hard to find in the sparsely populated Far East, said Irina Dubinina, project manager at the center.

The former Soviet government used to subsidize health care. While the services weren't as good as in some Western countries, medical care was free and accessible to everybody, particularly mothers and children, Dubinina said.

Now many of those subsidies have dried up and Russian citizens can't afford many medical techniques, particularly if they need specialized services outside their home hospital districts, she said.

Like Bush Alaska, vast regions like Yakutia are sparsely populated with little sophisticated treatment available for ailments like heart disease and cancer. It means traveling to big cities at a cost many Russians can't afford, Dubinina said. For example, she said, a flight from Magadan to Moscow now runs about $800 round trip.

The 10 Russian women to visit Anchorage from May 18 to June 8 include hospital and clinic managers, doctors and medical school professors, Ministry of Health officials, and specialists on tuberculous, hepatitis and AIDS.

All have enough clout to make changes back home based on what they learn here, Dubinina said.

They'll visit hospitals, especially Alaska Native Medical Center; they'll learn about telemedicine and hospice; they'll hear about medical billing and licensing; they'll learn about how private insurance and Medicare and Medicaid work; and they'll explore issues like protecting the rights of doctors and patients.

''This question is just beginning to be raised in Russia, especially patient rights,'' Dubinina said.

The visitors also will learn that some of the same problems in providing universal care exist even in America, she said.

The group is visiting as part of a U.S. Department of State program called Community Connections. The idea is to help the former U.S.S.R. transition to free markets. Since it began in the mid-1990s, more than 4,500 Russian entrepreneurs and professionals have been hosted in 50 U.S. cities.

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