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Medical bill scandal worsens as fresh allegations emerge
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-12-08 05:44

A scandal reported recently involving an enormous medical bill has intensified, with a report on Sohu.com saying treatment costs for one patient in a Harbin hospital may be as high as 10 million yuan (US$1.23 million).

Weng Wenhui, diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, was treated at a hospital in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province, for 67 days before dying at the age of 75 on August 6. The retired high school teacher reportedly left his family with a 5.5 million yuan (US$680,000) bill, including 4 million yuan (US$493,000) for imported medicine that doctors urged the family to buy.

The scandal, exposed on China Central Television (CCTV) two weeks ago, has ignited official investigations and public uproar over the country's increasingly expensive health care system.

Guo Yukuan, the CCTV reporter, was quoted by the Sohu report as saying the medical bill did not include charges for inviting Beijing doctors for treatment.

The 2nd Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University arranged specialists for a series of group consultations, ratcheting the total cost up to nearly 10 million yuan. In one case the fee for a specialist was 300,000 yuan (US$37,000), Guo said.

Beijing News Daily reported yesterday that an investigation team from the Ministry of Health has also confirmed the medical bill for Weng was not the total cost, though problems of "excessive treatment and spending" existed in the 5.5 million yuan charge.

For example, the hospital charged the late Weng's family for 1,180 diagnoses and blood transfusions costing 258,000 yuan (US$31,851), including 94 transfusions on one day.

Jiang Hongchi, Party secretary of the medical university, said about 20 specialists from Beijing paid more than 100 visits to the hospital for special consultations.

He said he could not comment on the role of the specialists while the investigation is ongoing.

The newspaper said the hospital had not abided by the rule that consultation fees be handed over to the medical institution where the specialists come from.

So far, it is not clear whether the medical institutions in Beijing permitted all the trips, or if the specialists pocketed the fees, the newspaper said, adding the hospital has admitted the group consultations were a mess.

Chen Huide, one of the Beijing specialists involved, said he reported the consultation tour to "relevant medical administrative agencies," the paper said.

Beijing-based Workers' Daily quoted Wang Xueyuan, a physician who looked after Weng for 47 days, as saying yesterday that a deterioration of doctors' ethics and loopholes in the medical system were to blame for the scandal.

As public institutions, hospitals cannot get sufficient government funding and have to seek other means to survive, he said.

Some resort to selling medicines at a high price, the paper said, adding "more than 60 per cent, or even more, of hospitals' income is from the sale of medicines."

The Ministry of Health promised to "sternly punish" hospital officials amid claims they had altered medical records and charged for hundreds of unnecessary tests and treatments, including some billed after Weng died.

(China Daily 12/08/2005 page2)

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