China / Society

Insurance to include treatment, diagnosis of birth defects

By Shan Juan in Shanghai (China Daily) Updated: 2015-09-02 07:41

The national health authority has pledged to include diagnosis and treatment of birth defects under health insurance programs.

One baby suffering a birth defect is born every 20 seconds in China. Currently, about 5.6 percent of babies in China have defects, or approximately 900,000 newborns each year, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

The rate is higher than the usual 3-4 percent in most developed countries.

Common problems include neural tube defects in the brain or spinal cord, hemophilia, congenital heart disease, too many fingers or toes, cleft lip or palate and Down syndrome, experts said. In extreme cases, disabilities or death can follow.

Some defects, such as hemophilia, congenital heart disease, and cleft lip or palate are already covered by the health insurance program in rural areas.

"The commission has been making efforts to include more birth defects under insurance coverage to help alleviate economic burdens for families with children suffering problems," said an official surnamed Liu.

Liu works with the women's and children's health department of the commission and was speaking at an awareness-raising event to mark Birth Defects Prevention Day, which falls on Sept 12.

"Birth defects have become a principal cause of children's disabilities and deaths here, many of which actually can be prevented," he said.

"The reimbursement rate for the treatment of birth defects will be further increased," he said.

Cheng Weiwei, deputy director of the Women and Children's Hospital, China Welfare Institute, stressed the importance of prevention.

Many birth defects, particularly if they are hereditary, can be screened out via medical checkups. Also, there are proven preventions, such as folic acid intake to help avert neural tube defects. Therefore, "prevention enabled by public education is essential", she said.

In some rural areas, free pre-pregnancy checkups and medical care have been provided to reduce the birth defect rate.

"Investment is worthwhile because of the huge medical costs incurred when treating birth defects," she said.

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