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New medical reform plan likely to be issued this year
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The Chinese government is likely to issue its long-awaited new plan on the reform of existing medical and drug operating system within this year after a final round of revision.

The revision will be based on suggestions to a draft plan, which the government put online (shs.ndrc.gov.cn/yg) on Oct. 14 for a month-long public debate.

By 13:00 Friday, more than 27,000 comments and suggestions have been left on the website.

"The draft will be improved based on suggestions from all social circles and a new one is likely to be issued within this year," Friday's China Business News quoted an unnamed official as saying.

A team of officials and experts is responsible for writing the plan. They are from 16 departments, including the Ministry of Health and the National Development and Reform Commission.

"The team will try to make the plan more specific and easy to operate," the newspaper quoted the source as saying. "Supplementary documents will also be issued together with the reform plan."

Growing public criticism of soaring medical fees, a lack of access to affordable medical services, poor doctor-patient relationships and low medical insurance coverage compelled the government to launch the new round of reforms.

Statistics from the Health Ministry show that Chinese citizens' average expenses on clinical treatment and hospitalization have increased 77 times and 116 times over the past 25 years. But their disposable income increased only 16 times during the same period.

In the draft plan, the government promised to set up a "safe, effective, convenient and affordable" medical system that would cover all urban and rural residents by 2020.

It clarifies government's responsibility by saying that it plays a dominant role in providing public health and basic medical service. Central and local governments are required to increase health funding to ease financial burden of individuals.

The draft listed public health, rural areas, urban community health services and basic medical insurance as four key areas for government investment.

It also promised to tighten government control over medical fees in public hospitals and to set up a "basic medicine system" to quell public complaints of rising drug costs.

Tsinghua University Professor Bai Chong'en told Xinhua that one of the priorities of the draft was to set up a basic medical insurance system which covers all Chinese citizens. "That would, to a certain extent, help ease public complaints on soaring medical expenses."

But many experts also criticized the draft as too "vague" and "general".

"The plan is filled with principles and guidelines," Cai Renhua, dean of the School of Public Health of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, told Xinhua. "It lacks specific measures," he said.

"For example, it says government should increase health funding. But how much?" he said.

Cai said the draft is hard to understand even to some medical professionals. "It needs to be further clarified to let people know what they could expect next."

(Xinhua News Agency November 14, 2008)

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