October 27, 2017

Improving Ukraine’s health


Back in August of last year, Dr. Ulana Suprun was appointed Ukraine’s acting minister of health. This Ukrainian American physician was well-known to our readers, foremost as the person behind Patriot Defence, the organization that has provided combat lifesaver training to Ukraine’s soldiers and NATO-standard individual first aid kits for the battlefield. She hit the ground running and soon proclaimed her revamped ministry’s intention to reform Ukraine’s Soviet-era health care system.

On October 19, acting Minister Suprun scored a major victory when the Verkhovna Rada, with 240 votes for, approved a comprehensive health care package that promises to advance the health of Ukraine’s people and improve how the health care system operates. It’s also a reform that is seen by the West as further evidence of Ukraine’s movement toward the European Union and away from Russia.

A week after the health care legislation was passed, Ukraine’s Finance Minister Oleksandr Danyluk announced that a 12 percent increase in health spending is planned for next year and that there would be more increases because this reform is a government priority. Dr. Suprun commented to The New York Times: “The ministry of finance is one of our biggest supporters. They’re big supporters of what we’re doing because they’re finally going to be able to follow the money all the way down to a patient. Whereas now we hand money out to hospitals and we don’t really know what is done with it at that point.”

Indeed, under the new system, “money will follow the patient,” Health Ministry spokesperson Marian Zbanatska told our correspondent in Kyiv. “This will improve how the overall health care system operates, provide better access to treatment and introduce standardized pricing for services throughout the country.” Under a new National Health Care Agency, hospitals will be paid for the number of patients they treat, not for the number of beds they have; doctors who treat more patients will see a concomitant rise in their earnings. That is a radical change because, as The Financial Times noted: “Currently a large share of health care funding is inefficiently spent and pocketed by vested interests along layers of bureaucracy, leaving few resources for care and medical professionals’ salaries. Patients are often forced to make illegal cash payments to underpaid doctors.”

President Petro Poroshenko met with Acting Minister Suprun on the day of the historic vote and said: “I congratulate you on this important result on the track of reforms, which is coupled with the reform of education, coupled with the pension reform.” Dr. Suprun replied: “This is the first step, and there is much to be done. We will work with you and the government to implement the necessary changes. Rural medicine, telemedicine will go hand in hand with the medical reform. …The reforms in medicine will also be of an anti-corruption nature …the system is changing and it will be transparent and fair.”

The Ukrainian World Congress welcomed the reform’s adoption, noting that it “fundamentally changes the health care system and kick starts a series of changes to health care in Ukraine… that will guarantee equal access to medical aid and standard health care services for all citizens.”

For our part, we can sincerely echo the words of Ukrainian Congress Committee of America President Andriy Futey, who was present in the Rada at the time the law was passed and stated: “By adopting health care reform, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada is addressing the demands of the people of Ukraine who bravely stood on the Euro-Maidan in hopes of a better future.”