Minister pledges healthcare for all

By Liu Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-01-10 07:21

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
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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 country's total.

(China Daily 01/10/2007 page3)

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