The government will bear a greater share of the costs for health care and basic treatment, and redress imbalances in access to medical services.
And a blueprint for the implementation of the changes will be worked out by a high-powered panel set up recently, Yin Dakui, president of the China Medical Doctor Association, said.
A long-standing grievance has been that most Chinese do not have access to affordable health care while a privileged few hog most of the resources, Yin said.
"The government must consider the issue of fairness while formulating a new health policy; and it must bear the cost of basic health care for all," Yin, also a former vice health minister, was yesterday quoted as saying by China Youth Daily.
A team of 11 State Council departments with the minister of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the health minister as co-chairs, has been set up, Wang Dongsheng, deputy director of the Social Development Department of the NDRC, told a forum on Sunday.
Their revamp plan could be announced before next spring, Wang told the forum in Shanghai.
The issues they will address are likely to be the vast amount of funds pumped into big hospitals, increasing medical costs and a wide lack of medical insurance.
For example, of all government spending on medical treatment, 80 percent is used for only about 8.5 million people, mainly officials at various levels.
But nearly half of all people who need medical attention do not go to see doctors because they cannot afford it, according to a national survey on medical service in 2003.
The main target of the reform is to establish a national health system which is equitable and available to all, said a Ministry of Health official who did not want to be named.
The central government has already taken big strides in that direction by expanding services in urban communities and township hospitals in the past five years.
In the next five years, the central government will spend 20 billion yuan (US$2.4 billion) to help rural hospitals and clinics improve technology, upgrade equipment and attract talents.
Currently, 80 percent of medical resources, including a big chunk of the world's best equipment, are gobbled up by big hospitals in cities, which are home to only 500 million of the country's 1.3 billion residents.
Although most of these big hospitals are either state-owned or non-profit institutions, financial assistance from the government has been dwindling and so they rely on high-priced drugs and diagnostics to keep operating.
The Ministry of Health official said the government would use more tax revenues to directly set up hospitals providing free primary medical care for all, especially the poor, the elderly, the jobless, and the disabled.
The government will also help more people secure medical insurance coverage, he said.
According to the 2003 survey, about 45 percent of urban and 80 percent of rural residents had no medical insurance.
In the past several years, the government has helped 156 million farmers join a "rural cooperation medical system".
The system pools money from the central government, usually 10 (US$1.2) to 20 yuan (US$2.4) per person, and a similar amount from local governments and the farmers themselves. The money is used to treat major illnesses.
The system will cover all 800 million rural residents by 2010, according to the ministry.
(China Daily September 20, 2006)