Sorry, We Have No Medicine

Unlike life-saving prescription drugs, hashish and other narcotics are easy to come by in Russia. Photo by the Russian Reader
Unlike life-saving prescription drugs, hashish and other narcotics are easy to come by in Russia. Photo by the Russian Reader

Sorry, We Have No Medicine
Alfia Maksutova
Takie Dela
November 24, 2016

What doctors and officials do to avoid giving patients the free drugs they have coming to them

“You’re not ill.”

“You don’t have that.”

“You don’t need that drug.”

“You need that drug, but a cheaper substitute will also do.”

“You need the drug, but we’re out of it, so you’ll have to wait.”

This is how doctors and officials respond to thousands of people who, by law, are supposed to receive subsidized medicines. They trick them. They know these people are ill, and they know what drugs they need. According to rough estimates, however, the state now lacks 45 billion rubles for providing drugs to the populace. In certain regions, only 10% of applicants can be supplied with subsidized medicines. Officials and doctors turn down patients in such a way that it is as difficult as possible to prove they have broken the law. The Health Ministry and the health care regulator Rosdravnadzor regularly report that things are stable when it comes to preferential drug provision in Russia. The figures underpinning the reports bear no relation to reality. The true scale and brutality of the war between patients and the state is striking.

***

“Every time, they say, ‘Sorry, we have no medicine. There is nothing we can do about it.’ But by law I am supposed to get them. If they are out of them today, the state should purchase them tomorrow. Isn’t that right?”

Veronika has repeated the question over and over, but her voice still sounds surprised. When she speaks, her hands, with their long, elegant fingers, tremble slightly, as if they too are incapable of coping with the surprise. She has used hormonal inhalers for fifteen years. Without them, she cannot breathe. She has asthma, a host of related ailments, and official status as a disabled person. She is entitled to get the necessary dose at the pharmacy for free, but the medicine has not been issued for a year and a half now.

“It was always given out intermittently,” says Veronika. “You had to find out ahead of time the day when the drug would show up and run to the clinic when it opened to be in time to get it. If you were late, they would tell you they had run out, and it was your problem. But it was only last year I had to deal with the medicine not being available for months at a time.”

Then, after waiting six months, Veronika first turned to the Moscow Health Department for help. It was enough to file an application and the inhaler, which the pharmacy did not have in stock in the morning, turned up in the evening. But the magical effect of phoning the health department did not last long. A couple of months later, the drug was once again no longer available. When Veronika called the health department this time, she was told the situation was complicated. She could file an application, but no one knew when the drugs would arrive. The same day, the pharmacy called her and said her request was pointless: the drugs would not be available. Currently, relatives have been paying for her inhalers to the tune of several thousand rubles a month. According to Veronika, many of the people queued up to see the pulmonologist could not afford to pay this amount. The phrase “we are out of drugs” is tantamount a death sentence to them.

Veronika’s case is one of thousands. It suffices to peruse the regional press for the past month to read a dozen such stories. In Mordovia, the pharmacies not only have no prednisolone for patients entitled to the free drugs benefits, but no iodine or bandages, either. In Oryol Region, a woman suffering from lymphoma managed to get medicine only after local media wrote about her case. In Khakassia, the Audit Chamber will be investigating the problems with subsidized medicines due to the large numbers of complaints by patients. Organizations involved in protecting patients’ rights talk constantly about the growing number of pleas for help. The Movement against Cancer, for example, has noted an uptick. In September of this year, there had been so many cases of cancer patients turned down for subsidized drugs that the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated legal violations in a number of regions. According to online monitoring data for September 2016, done by Alexander Saversky, head of the League of Patients, over 80% of those surveyed had trouble obtaining subsidized drugs. Only 35% of those people had managed to get a prescription for the drugs in question without problems. Similar figures were adduced in a survey done last year by the Russian People’s Front: half of the patients surveyed were not issued the medicines they requested on time.

A 2016 government report stated the subsidized drugs provision program was suffering a shortfall of 45 billion rubles [approx. 660 million euros]. This was no surprise. The standard cost per person receiving free drugs has dropped from 849 rubles a month, in 2011, to 758 rubles, in 2016. According to Rosstat, however, the price of drugs has increased this year by 24%. In 2015, the government allocated an additional 16 billion rubles to alleviate the situation, but, unexpectedly, they were not used. The Health Ministry has said that all necessary drugs have been purchased. Roszdravnadzor regularly monitors the supply of drugs nationwide and has remained satisfied with its results. According to the reports issued by these agencies, around 98% of beneficiaries in Moscow Region, for example, receive their drugs, and the situation in other regions is stable. The Health Ministry’s ability to force public health officials to bend reality for reporting purposes has amazed even the president. Continue reading “Sorry, We Have No Medicine”

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