The fragmentary federation: experiences with the decentralized health system in Russia

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The Russian Federation has undergone a process of major constitutional change in the post-communist period, as a strong central government has ceded extensive powers to the regions. This has important implications for the organization of the health care system which, as with other elements of the Soviet system, had previously been highly centralized. Although it is now well-recognized that the powers of the Federal Health Ministry have weakened considerably, the precise scale and nature of the process of decentralization remain imperfectly understood. This paper provides new evidence on the nature of decentralization in the Russian Federation since the breakdown of the USSR, reporting the results of case studies undertaken in six regions of Russia (Samara, Tver, Tula, Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk and Moscow oblasts) to describe the organization of health care financing, regulation and delivery. It shows that while there is a common model of health system (with the exception of Samara, where an innovative model was implemented), there are many minor variations. The study confirms the limited scope for action by Federal authorities, but also shows that the power vested in the regional governments is more limited than was previously thought. Instead, the municipalities (rayons) emerge as important bodies, as they own the facilities in which much of the routine health care is delivered and, both directly and indirectly, by virtue of their contributions of insurance premiums for the non-working, provide a substantial amount of health care financing. The study demonstrates the complexity of the Russian health care system and identifies the widespread absence of mechanisms that might be used to bring about much needed change.

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