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High Costs Keep Patients Out of Hospitals

The cost of medical care has increased more rapidly than residents' income, leading many not to seek medical care when they need it, said a director in the Ministry of Health.

According to a 2003 nationwide survey, 36 percent of Chinese patients in cities and 39 percent in the countryside did not go to see the doctor because they were not able to afford the medical treatment, said Rao Keqin, of the statistics information center, quoted by Monday's Information Times.

Meanwhile, 27.66 percent of the hospitalized patients left because of economic problems.

The survey found the per capita expense of outpatient and inpatient services increased by 14 percent annually from 1993 to 2003, excluding the growth of consumer price.

Outpatient services cost 21 yuan (US$2.54) per person and 933 yuan (US$112.82) for inpatient service in 1993. The cost rose to 75 yuan (US$9.07) and 2,233 yuan (US$270.01) in 2003, according to the survey.

The ministry made the third nationwide survey on medical service from Sept. 18 to Oct. 20 last year sampling 193,689 residents in 92 Chinese cities and counties.

The survey showed that about 14.3 percent of Chinese residents who receive surgery were ill for two weeks before the operation. This is up 0.3 percent over 1993.

Based on the figure, the ministry estimated that the disease cases in China reached 5 billion in 2003, up 710 million over 1993.

Despite the increase of the ill, 13.4 percent of the patients went to hospital in the two weeks before the survey was made, down from 17 percent in 1993, while 49 percent did not see doctor promptly.

Those who took inpatient service accounted for 3.6 percent of the total samples, remaining the same as a decade ago.

Doctors are inclined to give patients expensive prescriptions, because Chinese hospitals depend too much on the income from medicines instead of service. Thia aggravates the high medical expense, said Liu Xinming, senior official of the MOH, at another meeting held early this month at Nanjing of east China's Jiangsu Province.

The country has tried to reduce the prices of medicine and cancel the difference between the buy-in and sold-out prices of medicines at the hospital while increasing the fee of service, he said.

Meanwhile the central government plans to invest 1.2 billion yuan (US$145.1 million) in improving health care service in rural areas of less-developed west and central China, including funding graduates of medical colleges to serve in rural hospitals for one or two years.

(Xinhua News Agency November 23, 2004)

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