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China to spend $124b on healthcare reform
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The government will spend 850 billion yuan ($124.26 billion) in the next three years to provide accessible and affordable healthcare to the country's 1.3 billion people.

The State Council yesterday approved the final draft of the long-awaited healthcare reform at its executive meting, chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao. The aim of the reform is to make the government bear most of the medical expenses of the people by 2011.

"Primary healthcare and medical services will become accessible to more people (and) people's medical expenses will be visibly reduced," the draft plan says.

According to it, the government will expand the sponsored medical insurance network to cover 90 percent of the population. Each person covered by the system will receive an annual subsidy of 120 yuan from 2010.

The government will build hospitals and improve medical services at the county level and remote areas, and expedite the reform of State-run hospitals, strengthening their administration, operation and supervision. It will regulate the drugs system, too, which is considered a major source of corruption in the medical sector.

A system will be developed to allow urban and rural residents both to use a universal healthcare account by 2011, the meeting said.

Minister of Health Chen Zhu told local health officials earlier this month that under the reform, the government would subsidize public hospitals' infrastructure.

Doctors welcomed the reform, but expressed concern over its long-term effects. "I wonder whether the reform can really spread the insurance cover to rural areas. Now insurance schemes stop at the county level," said Yan Yinlan, 49, a doctor working in Yanmen village in Shanxi province.

About 400 million people do not have any kind of healthcare cover, according to the Ministry of Health.

"Once healthcare goes public, I doubt if the government would increase its input to ensure the quality of medical service and the income of doctors," said a surgeon with the premier Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province.

The country changed its healthcare system in 1992 to suit the needs of market economy.

But the existing healthcare system has been criticized since 2005, with public complaints rising drastically over medical fees, inaccessibility to medical services, poor doctor-patient relations and low medical insurance coverage.

(China Daily January 22, 2009)

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