'Value to the system' determined healthcare for communist East Germany's elderly

July 21, 2005

Under the communist regime in East Germany, elderly patients' healthcare depended on whether they could contribute to the workforce, says a letter in this week's BMJ.

While those working and therefore judged "valuable to the system" could access medical treatment when needed, retired patients were considered a "drain on the public purse" says Dr Herbert Nehrlich, an East German doctor now living in Australia.

X-rays and other diagnostic tests were denied people of a certain age, and retired East Germans were not hindered from travelling to the West, or staying there, he adds.

Conversely East German workers benefited from programmes to maintain and improve fitness including subsidies for sports, and breaks during the working day for sporting activities.

Health inequalities between East and West Germany should be ironed out over time, says Dr Nehrlich, although higher drinking levels in the East were "not discouraged under the communist regime" and remain a problem for those living there now.
-end-


BMJ

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