A September 5 report in China Youth Daily said Beijing citizens have expressed dissatisfaction over an inspection report on medical fees published by the municipal health bureau on August 28.
It found that five of the 49 Grade-3 hospitals inspected had collected arbitrary charges, but members of the public said the report looked at trivial instances of misconduct but ignored major ones.
"Internal inspections such as this could help regulate the behavior of medical staff to some extent," said a woman named Xiao, but the most serious case reported was that of a nurse who collected an extra 900 yuan (US$111) through clerical error. "Others only involved several yuan. Are these trivial problems really what the public complain about?"
"Sometimes, I need to go through many checks to get diagnosed for a very common disease. But I have been told later on by other doctors that some of the checks were not necessary," said Dai, a retiree from a motorcycle factory.
Wang Jinwei, a retiree from the General Administration of Sport, said he went to hospital for aching legs, but registered at the endocrine department by mistake.
"When I finally saw the doctor after waiting for a long time, he did several checks without asking me anything. They included a lumbar check, blood pressure check and blood test, and cost me more than 500 yuan (US$62)," said Wang. "When I asked him about my aching legs, the doctor just asked me to go to the orthopedic department."
Wang said his mistake could have easily been identified and remedied before costing him so much in unnecessary tests.
Exorbitant medicine prices have also been a major complaint.
According to the China Health Statistics Yearbook (2004), the average cost for medical diagnosis and treatment was 215.6 yuan (US$27) per person per time in Beijing, double the national average of 108.2 yuan (US$13).
The proportion spent on medicines was also particularly high in Beijing; in 2003, 72 percent of the 262.78 yuan (US$33) average cost per person per time was on medicine, with only 23.7 yuan (US$3) and 17.9 yuan (US$2) going on checks and treatment respectively.
"There is no fixed standard for medicine prices, and sometimes drugs are much more expensive in hospitals than in drugstores," said a man named Zhang.
China Youth Daily identified two main reasons that most people still buy medicines in hospitals despite the expense.
The first was that getting reimbursed for purchases made in drugstores was an overly complicated process.
Foreign Enterprises Service Cooperation, which provides personnel and social security services to over 80,000 Chinese employees working in more than 6,000 foreign enterprises, said on its website that a prescription with the seal of a medicare-designated institute and an invoice from a designated drugstore are needed for reimbursement.
The other reason was that medicines in designated drugstores are not cheap either, since lower price drugstores are usually not medicare-designated.
(China.org.cn by Yuan Fang, September 13, 2005)