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Healthcare reform plan to be publicized in March
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China's long-awaited reform plan for its failing healthcare system will be released in March shortly after the top legislature's annual session, said Health Minister Chen Zhu.

The plan has almost been completed and the ministry is still soliciting opinions from experts and other departments, Chen was quoted by Friday's Modern Express, based in east China's Jiangsu Province, as saying.

The plan covers four aspects of the medical system: public health care, medical treatment, medical insurance and supply of medicines, he said at a meeting held on Thursday in Jiangsu.

Soaring medical costs in recent years have plunged many rural and urban Chinese back into poverty as a result of the government's failure to implement an adequate medical insurance network after it cut subsidies for medical costs in 1992.

China plans to reform the present system so that common people can enjoy universal basic services at reasonable prices, according to a government report to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature last December.

The scheme features basic concepts including adhering to the orientation of serving the people, ensuring the "non-profit" nature of public medical institutions, cutting hospitals' involvement in drug sales, increasing governmental responsibility and input, and establishing a basic medicare network for the whole population.

The ministry announced earlier this month that the reform will be piloted this year "in selected regions".

Several provinces including Jiangsu have applied to take part in the trial, Chen said.

The minister, also a renowned molecular biologist, called on doctors to improve their professional ethics. "Doctors shall not act as puppets of big pharmaceutical companies," he said.

According to a recent survey by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on "unsafe" factors upsetting the public, rising medical costs have become the top concern among Chinese people. The high costs usually result from expensive medicines.

Countless media reports have told of doctors intentionally prescribing costly drugs in return for kickbacks from pharmaceutical firms.

(Xinhua News Agency January 19, 2008)

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