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Family of Deceased Challenges US$660,000 Hospital Bill

The family of an elderly man who died after 67 days of treatment in a hospital is contesting a total bill for 5.4 million yuan (about US$660,000) in hospital fees.

Weng Wenhui, who died of cancer on August 6 at the age of 75, spent the last 67 days of his life at Harbin No 2 Hospital, which is attached to Harbin Medical University, in Heilongjiang Province.

Weng reportedly racked up 1.4 million yuan (US$173,000) in hospital fees.

The fees included hospital charges that averaged 21,000 yuan (US$2,600) a day, and medication costs of 4 million yuan (US$493,200), China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Wednesday.

Weng's family has honored the payments, but now question the hospital's honesty and integrity.

Ma Yuguang, former deputy chief of the Beijing-based General Hospital of the Ministry of Water Conservancy, told CCTV that he was astonished by the bill saying it could be "a record in China."

Weng's eldest son, Weng Qiang, a businessman, who settled a large portion of the bill, said the medical costs were worth it so long as treatment prolonged his father's life for even one minute.

But other family members aren't as convinced.

According to the deceased's wife, Fu Xiumei, one of the charges was for medicine which Weng was allergic to. Further, two charges are for tests supposedly conducted on her husband on August 8, two days after he died. 

The hospital set up a special team in mid-August to investigate the family's allegations of dishonesty. Team head Yang Hui said he had found no evidence of any wrongdoing.

But this was not satisfactory for the Weng family.

The Ministry of Health has now sent a team to the hospital to investigate.

Yu Lingfan, head of the Intensive Care Unit where Weng was treated, told CCTV that the high costs were a result of special care for the patient, who at the time was "very seriously ill."

Family members also demanded that the hospital "go all out" to save Weng, a retired high school teacher, Yu said.

"Our efforts resulted in high medical costs. We even reduced some of the charges," Yu added.

But Wang Xueyuan, a senior doctor who oversaw much of Weng's treatment, told CCTV that some bills conflicted with treatment he had directed, adding that he thought certain medicines had been wasted on Weng's treatment.

The hospital, which is more than 50 years old, is well known in the provincial capital and treats more than 50,000 patients each year.

The Ministry of Health revealed last November that nearly 40 percent of the country's patients cannot afford medical treatment because of the high costs.

Expensive medical treatment in China has been criticized in recent years. Unable to afford medical treatment, many give up on it altogether, often with fatal consequences.

According to statistics, medical costs have increased faster than incomes. From 1993 to 2003, the cost of medical treatment increased by 14 percent annually.

(China Daily November 25, 2005)

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