China's health care system searching for remedy
Updated: 2006-10-06 14:14

To quell rising medicine prices, China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has issued its 19th medicine price cap at the end of this August, which involves 99 antimicrobial drugs. It is estimated that the annual saving from the price cut for patients can reach 4.3 billion yuan (about 538 million dollars).

However, critics also argued that the cuts may not provide a cure. Prof. Li Ling observed. "They are far from a quick-fix solution, and could even exacerbate the tendency to overprescribe, " she said.

She said the previous price cuts only resulted in some drug manufacturers ratcheting up prices after altering product names and packaging. Some hospitals and clinics raise the costs of medical services, turned a blind eye to government standards or even turned down low-priced drugs.

She urged the central government to bolster spending and initiate a radical restructuring of the health system in a bid to restore fairness and quality service. "Health care has to be accessible and affordable," she added.

Ge Yanfeng believed this is attainable for China. According to his estimation, a new health care system which is accessible and affordable to all will cost 150 billion to 200 billion yuan (19 billion to 25 billion dollars), which equals five to seven percent of the national revenue or one to one-and-a-half percent of GDP in 2005.

The NDRC announced this September that the Chinese government has made improving health care a priority, promising to bring virtually every citizen within the health care insurance framework by 2010. A new cooperative medical program was launched on a trial basis in 2003 in the rural areas with 156 million farmers covered so far.

 The program calls for every individual to contribute ten yuan (1.2 dollars) a year to a special fund, to be subsidized another ten yuan (1.2 dollars) each by the local government and the central government as well. Eventually, farmers should be able to draw from it to cover their health expenses.

Experts from Beijing University, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health surveyed 70,769 farmers in 257 pilot counties of 29 provinces and regions from March to July this year. The survey showed that the cooperative medical program has helped reduce the medical expenses proportion in farmers' average annual income, down from 89 percent in 2003 to 65 percent in 2004.