Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu has vowed to deepen the healthcare reform initiated three years ago until it "meets the public's expectation."
The country's current program of healthcare reform, "the most profound one" since China began its opening-up policy in 1978, has "entered deep water," Chen told the People's Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
"Only if we have the courage to reform ourselves, will we earn understanding from the public," the newspaper quoted Chen as saying in an article published on Thursday.
The principle of the reform is "providing the healthcare system as 'a public product' to the entire population," according to Chen.
More than 95 percent of China's population of 1.3 billion are covered by the medicare network, and rural people are covered by the "new rural cooperative medical system," he said.
All government-run grassroots medical institutions have established the essential drug policy and more than 70 percent of Chinese regions boast standard county hospitals, "significant" achievements in Chen's view.
Healthcare reform is "a worldwide problem" and many countries including Western developed nations have regularly adjusted their healthcare system, he said, adding that the goal and route of China's reform must "suit the national situation."
The route has to be safe and "reduce risks to the minimum," the health minister said. For example, he suggested, public hospitals should be reformed before county hospitals "shoulder the responsibility of looking after 900 million Chinese, especially farmers."
About 90 percent of China's rural residents can see doctors in their own counties, avoiding placing too much pressure on urban medical facilities. Uneven distribution of medical resources between rural and urban areas has been a subject of public criticism.
Chen also noted that "overemphasis on marketization does not suit the nature of China's socialist system and the medical sector," but provided the caveat that "the government taking on all things is not realistic under the current economic conditions."
Reform of public hospitals is of great significance to solving the acute problem of "poor access and high fees" for the public to see doctors, he said, adding that the process is complicated as it concerns the interests of several parties like production and circulation of pharmaceutical, medical institutions and staff, as well as patients.
China's medical system has also been criticized for the integration of the management of medical services and drugs, as the more medicines doctors prescribe to patients, the more money hospitals earn, a dynamic which is thought to damage doctor-patient relations.
Chen has vowed to separate medical services from drug management and increase doctors' income so as to solve the conflict.
"It has to be acknowledged that the current progress of healthcare reform is still some distance away from people's expectations. The reform has to race against time," he said.