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Officials deny offering free care, but admit to 'green channel' services
A Shanghai hospital and the city's sports authority on Wednesday denied claims they provide free medical services and preferential treatment to the city's elite athletes.
Huashan Hospital and the Shanghai Sports Bureau have been under fire since they supposedly reached an agreement last week under which 23 world champions, including 110m hurdler Liu Xiang, and four outstanding coaches, will be entitled to a lifetime of free medical services and exempted from paying medical insurance.
News of the deal prompted a public outcry, with critics saying the champions, who have already been given a number of honors and cash rewards, should not receive additional benefits, especially medical services, which are already under strain.
More care should be given to ordinary athletes they said, accusing decision-makers of abusing public money by offering free medical services as a form of reward and generating more social unfairness.
Huashan Hospital, an institution well known for its advanced treatment of sports injuries, said on Wednesday the deal only gives the top athletes "green channel" services. That means the athletes can skip to the front of the line to register, receive treatment from veteran medical workers and be given special one-on-one care.
"The services are designed to make it easier for the athletes to see a doctor, and the green channel services are common during important sports events," said Dai Runming, a publicity official at the hospital.
The Shanghai Sports Bureau told Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday the athletes should pay their medical bill if the cost exceeds the expenses covered by their personal medical insurance and commercial insurance granted by Shanghai Sports Development Foundation.
The bureau said earlier that the agreement with Huashan Hospital is to guarantee Shanghai-born world champions receive quality medical services. The program only targets winners of Olympic medals, world championships and world cup winners.
The city's medical insurance office also said athletes and coaches do not have any privileges that sidestep medical insurance.
If they participate in the insurance program, athletes and coaches are entitled to the same benefits as other insurance customers, Shanghai Evening Post quoted the office as saying.
Despite the clarifications, netizens have still descried the preferential treatment as unfair.
"They don't need to wait in lines and have designated hospital staff members to escort them. Isn't that a privilege itself?" a netizen commented on online portal Sina.
Another Web user said: "If they have green channels, others will have to wait for a longer time. It's unfair."
A commentary by Xinhua said free medical insurance is redundant for gold medal winners who have already received material rewards from the government and enterprises. They have also earned a handsome amount of money by taking part in commercial activities.
Forbes estimated that Liu Xiang, an Olympic champion in the 2004 Athens Games, earned 160 million yuan ($26 million) from commercial endorsements in 2007 alone.