Healthcare for all

(China Daily)
Updated: 2007-12-28 14:57

A new medical reform plan was recently submitted to China's top legislature for deliberation. The health minister claimed that the aim of the reform is to provide safe, effective, convenient and low-cost public health and basic medicare service to both rural and urban citizens.

Given its relevance to every one of us, the reform plan certainly will be in the limelight from its inception.

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However, if lawmakers want to seize the opportunity to overhaul the country's problematic healthcare system, they should solicit public opinion on the reform as soon as possible.

The new medical reform plan is correct to suggest that the government should play a leading role in providing medical care and public health services.

Due to insufficient government funding, public medical institutions have operated mainly on profits from medical services and drug prescriptions for years. Such a practice not only imposed heavy burdens on patients but also eroded the professional ethics of some doctors. Under the pressure of profit-seeking, some doctors tended to over-prescribe to their patients.

As public criticism of soaring medical fees, lack of access, poor doctor-patient relations and the low coverage of the medicare system intensified in recent years, a complete overhaul of the country's healthcare system became a must.

Obviously, the new reform plan has not quite got the root cause of the problems.

Government funding has for years only accounted for about 17 percent of the expenditure of the health sector. It is surely urgent to substantially increase government expenditure on healthcare, especially as the national coffer has rocketed from two trillion yuan ($272 billion) in 2003 to more than five trillion yuan this year.

The government has indeed been aware of the necessity to fix the problem of under-funding for healthcare.

In the first 11 months, the central and local fiscal expenditure on health reached 142 billion yuan, up 40.6 percent year on year. Healthcare has become one of the few sectors that witnessed the fastest growth of public expenditure.

Yet, to make fair and efficient use of increased fiscal expenditure on healthcare, it is important to reform the current medical system in line with the interests of the people. The public's opinion, though not so professional, may still contain a grain of truth that is indispensable for any successful reform.

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