The country's healthcare system will be further reformed so that urban and
rural residents can have equal access to medical services, Health Minister Gao
Qiang said yesterday.
Addressing a two-day national healthcare working conference yesterday, he
conceded that government investment and supervision had not been enough during
the past years.
Though no specific date was given for when the new
measures would be implemented, sources
in the Ministry of Health said a working team to intensify
healthcare reforms was studying the situation and carrying out research to
prepare a draft.
More than 10 ministries and commissions, including the Ministry of Health,
are involved in the process.
Gao said China's medical system was facing severe problems, including the
challenge of controlling epidemics, unbalanced healthcare development in
different regions and urban and rural areas, increasing medical costs and a
rising number of medical accidents. Conflicts between hospitals and patients,
too, were on the rise.
The situation demands that the government establish a medical care system
that would guarantee every citizen receives basic healthcare services, he said.
The decision to further reform the healthcare system was taken in response to
the widespread public dissatisfaction with the current system, under which even
public hospitals have been accused of putting profit first.
The aim of public healthcare services should be to serve the people rather
than make a profit, Gao said, and pledged to strengthen government supervision
over public hospitals.
Urban and rural residents alike have been complaining about high medical
costs. Also, hospitals often prescribe overpriced and unnecessary drugs to
patients to earn extra money.
A national survey conducted last year found that nearly half the respondents
did not see a doctor when they fell ill because of the very high medical costs.
But at the same time, many efforts to extend medical care to rural residents
were successful last year. The first nine months of 2006 saw the country's 140
million farmers benefiting from the rural cooperative medical care system.
The beneficiaries got 9.58 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) in subsidy for medical
treatment, Gao said, and about 406 million farmers, or 45.8 percent of the total
rural population, joined the system.
The rural cooperative medical care system, launched in 2003, is expected to
ease the burden of farmers. Each farmer pays 10 yuan ($1.2) to a medical fund
every year, with the State and local governments each contributing 10 yuan
($1.2). And when a farmer undergoes treatment for an ailment, he can get a
certain proportion of the medical expenses from the fund. By the end of last
September, the system had been extended to 1,400 counties, or 50 percent of the
(China Daily 01/10/2007 page3)