China Promises To Improve Public Hospitals

Top Chinese officials promised Wednesday to improve public hospitals and cut their dependence on drug sales for income – a major driver of high health care costs.

Public health care in China has been underfunded for years, and the high cost and poor access of health services are among the public’s biggest complaints. In 2009, China announced it would pour $124 billion into reforming the system over three years to provide basic medical coverage and insurance for all of its 1.3 billion people.

Experts have warned, however, that large injections of public funds will be wasted if underlying problems such as the chronic reliance on revenue from drug sales are not solved. World Bank research shows that more than 40 percent of total health spending goes to purchasing medicines in China, a disproportionately high amount compared to other countries.

“I think that no matter what kind of hospital, you should rely on medical technology and improved services to gain income,” Sun Zhigang, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, told a news conference on the sidelines of the annual meeting of China’s legislature.

This year, officials are focusing on reforms that would improve access to medical care, with plans announced this week to build more county hospitals, reduce prices of some common drugs and increase state insurance subsidies.

The government says the reforms are part of a promised national economic overhaul that will encourage greater domestic consumption instead of relying on exports for economic growth. Many Chinese put a significant portion of their earnings into a rainy day fund for health care instead of spending it.

The Washington Post

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