In committing themselves to reform the country's medical system, China's policy-makers appear to be drawing inspiration from Chinese healers of old.
Traditional Chinese medicine distinguishes itself by focusing on a holistic approach to the patient rather than disease-oriented diagnosis and treatment.
A similar approach is being taken with regard to the medical system, which itself is seriously ill.
Though it is still too early to predict the effect of the joint effort by about a dozen State Council departments, co-chaired by the minister of the National Development and Reform Commission and the health minister, this latest government initiative to address various problems related to medical reforms merits credit.
By inviting all relevant government departments to participate on a high-powered panel, the government gives a much-needed shot in the arm to the country's medical reform. It is believed that cross-departmental efforts will help remove many of the existing barriers that have long kept comprehensive solutions at bay.
Persistent, escalating public complaints about a lack of access to affordable health care have compelled policy-makers to rethink the previous approach to revamping the country's medical system.
As soaring drug prices put an increasingly unbearable financial burden on most Chinese families, the National Development and Reform Commission, the pricing authority, has slashed drug prices 19 times over the past decade. The latest round of price cuts took place less than a month ago.
Yet as long as most hospitals still have to make ends meet by profiting from drug sales, drug prices always find a way to spring back sooner or later.
Kickbacks and "red envelopes," which some doctors take from pharmaceutical companies and patients respectively, present another problem that has caught policymakers' attention.
The authorities not only resorted to professional ethics to make medical workers behave. From the beginning of this year, the central government has even listed such malpractice as one target in the national campaign against commercial bribery.
The intensity of the Chinese government's effort to revamp the country's medical system is enormous. But the result is far from satisfactory.
Piecemeal stunts can never tackle the problem at its source.
The fact that more than 10 State Council departments are involved in the new panel testifies to the complexity of China's medical reform. A fragmented healthcare administration system will only further reduce the efficiency of an already underfunded medical system.
Hence, to establish a national health system that is equitable and available to all, it is crucial to integrate all the country's medical resources, which are currently distributed unevenly and scarcely across regions and departments.
The formation of an interdepartmental reform panel is just the first step in taking a holistic approach towards the country's medical reform, which the Ministry of Health definitely cannot undertake all by itself.
With so many departments on the panel, it is more likely than before that policy-makers will finally come up with a comprehensive solution to boost the country's medical reform.
(China Daily September 21, 2006)