China's long-awaited medical reform plan is to be piloted this
year "in selected regions," embarking on a path of medical and
health development "with Chinese characteristics", Health Minister
said at a national health conference that concluded Tuesday.
"The major task this year is to pilot key issues listed in the
newly-outlined medical reform plan in some selected regions to
accumulate experience before a nationwide implementation," Chen
He did not explain how the regions would be selected and failed
to give the number of regions that would fall under the pilot
Chen outlined China's new medical reform plan, which aims to
provide universal basic services at reasonable prices, in a report
to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC),
China's top legislature, in late December last year.
"Relevant guiding opinions and coordinated documents on the
reform plan have taken shape," Chen said, noting that the
government will soon solicit opinions on the reform plan from the
Vice Minister of Health Gao Qiang said at the conference that
the country's medical and health development will "follow a path
with Chinese characteristics", the first time the government has
put forward this notion.
"Imitating foreign models blindly in medical reforms will only
lead to mistakes," Gao said.
The scheme features basic concepts including adhering to the
orientation of serving the people, ensuring the "non-profit" nature
of public medical institutions, cutting hospitals' involvement in
drug sales, increasing governmental responsibility and input, and
establishing a basic medicare network for the whole population,
according to Gao.
"The aim is to provide safe, effective, convenient and low-cost
public health and basic medicare service to both rural and urban
citizens," Gao said.
The new plan failed to impress some officials present.
Liao Xinbo, vice director of the health department in Guangdong,
said the new plan was "not very exciting" and was still not
Liao, who had participated in the discussions on the plan, said
not much new content was added into the plan.
He said some ideas had already been implemented or put on trial
by some medical institutions but some ideas that failed have still
continued to receive support.
But the local official admitted increasing government
responsibility and input was the most exciting part of the scheme,
though coordinated and detailed plans are needed to make it
The scheme also promises to "gradually reduce hospitals'
involvement with drug sales to cut drug prices," noting that any
resulting shortfall could be met by government subsidies and "a
reasonable rise in medical service fees".
Many citizens voiced their concerns over this "reasonable" rise,
fearing the price increase will only serve to offset the drop in
drug prices and impose an equal burden on the public.
A netizen named Tiandadida said in forum on Sina.com.cn: "I'm
afraid drug prices may not be cut but medical service fees will
surely shoot up."
Growing public criticism of soaring medical fees, lack of
access, poor doctor-patient relations and the low coverage of the
medicare system compelled China to launch a new round of medical
According to a latest survey by the National Bureau of
Statistics (NBS) on "unsafe" factors upsetting the public, rising
medical costs have become the top concern among Chinese people,
China first started its medical service reform in 1992 to
abolish a system under which the government covered more than 90
percent of expenses.
However, soaring medical costs plunged many rural and urban
Chinese back into poverty. Currently, there were about 400 million
people around the country without any healthcare coverage,
according to the Ministry of Health.
The new reform plan promised an initial basic medicare network
would be set up by 2010 to reduce the widening gap of medical
services among different income groups and regions. By 2020, China
would establish a basic medicare network for the whole
(Xinhua News Agency January 9, 2008)