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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Private Ambulance Firm Has One Month to Live

The city's largest private ambulance company, which serves thousands of foreigners, will be shut down in one month following a controversial decision by the city's chief medical agency.

The Main Moscow Medical Board, which controls the city's hospitals and ambulance services, has decided that as of May 31 it would stop leasing ambulances to the private company, Korona, and evict it from the offices it rents from the board.

The decision affects 40 Russian medical insurance companies and their 50, 000 clients, including 5, 000 foreigners who use the service as an alternative to the city's ambulance corps.

Korona contracts with private Russian medical insurers to provide 24-hour ambulance service to insured clients, bringing them to specified city hospitals. It also provides other medical services for insurance companies, such as rehabilitation and health resorts.

Korona, begun last year, routinely handles seven to 12 calls a day, according to the company's president, Yury Andreyev. In contrast to the city's ambulance service, Korona can check a client's coverage through its database and transport patients to particular hospitals to be treated for specific illnesses.

The decision by the medical board actually amounts to a one-month extension for the ambulance company. Last month, the board voted to cancel its contracts with Korona as of April 30, saying the commercial ambulance service "hurt the majority of Muscovites using free medical service", according to Shamil Gainulin, an aide to Medical board head Anatoly Solovyov.

But Radik Yusinov of the Russian Medical Insurers Association called "baseless" the Medical board's claims that Korona's existence hurts free state ambulance service, saying that Korona handles no more than 15 calls a day while Moscow is lacking about 2, 000 ambulances. "We suspect they are just planning to set up the commercial service of their own", Yusinov said.

Andreyev said he believes the medical board decision to halt cancellation for one month was a reaction to pleas by insurance companies addressed to the Moscow city council last week.

The Russian Medical Insurers Association estimated that insurers would lose 350 to 500 million rubles ($425, 000 to $607, 000) if Korona were forced to close down. Clients could cancel or insurers could be forced to find more costly ways to transport their clients.

Felix Berul, president of Ruslan Medical Insurance Co. , with about 1, 000 foreigners among its clients, said that Korona's service is especially important for foreigners who prefer to know where they will be treated.

"If you use regular state ambulance service you could be put in any of dozens Moscow hospitals most of which do not satisfy Ruslan clients due to poor conditions and service", Berul said.

Yusinov said the Insurers Association would try to help Korona survive.

"We cannot do without such service. If they cancel an agreement, we will help Korona set up an independent service", he said. Insurers are going to raise about 95 million rubles by the end of the year to begin a Korona-run independent ambulance service.

Some foreign and even Russian medical organizations have already succeeded in breaking the state monopoly on ambulance service. The Athens Medical Center and European Medical Center use their own Mercedez and Citroen ambulances to transport patients.