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Healthcare reforms reduce medical costs

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The world's largest developing country, with the biggest demand on medical resources, has been working to provide affordable healthcare for decades. It's a tough task, with many deep-rooted problems, an expanding population and unbalanced distribution of resources. CCTV reporter Ai Yang looks at the progress made over the years and how Chinese people are benefitting from ongoing healthcare reforms.

It's a typical workday for doctor Liu Yingping. She sees about 80 to 100 patients a day. This hospital used to be exclusively for staff within China's railroad system. Seven years ago, it went public as part of the country's health care reforms.

Dr. Liu Yingping, Beijing Shijitan Hospital, said, "The number of patients has doubled since the hospital went public. And over the years we have received more public funding, so now doctors can prescribe more types of medicine. And patients no longer need to turn to bigger hospitals for more sophisticated treatment and checkups as we have become better equipped."

Take this 256-detector row CT scanner for example. It was the first such purchase to arrive in China. The hospital keeps waiting time to a minimum, sometimes even shorter than in some developed western countries. Without significant public funding from the healthcare reform, this couldn't have been done.

But China's overall healthcare situation still lags behind the international standard by a shocking degree. In 2000, the WHO ranked China's health system at 144 out of 190. The last decade saw the country going all out to improve it, and the newest round of national healthcare reform started in 2009.

The government has since invested 1-and-half trillion yuan in various projects, the most ever for medical care. For patients, it means they now get certain medical bills reimbursed 70 to 90 percent.

3 years after the reform, 95 percent covered by basic insurance, cost reduced by 17 percent.

But behind these impressive figures, many problems still need addressing, such as resource distribution.

A patient said, "I don't have to queue for a long time to see a doctor here, so it's good. But actually I live far away and the hospital near home is always too crowded."

A report published by the Ministry of Health this year finds patients made a total of 6.2 billion visits to hospitals in 2011. That's 1.4 billion more than before the new reform started. Although it's a sign that seeing a doctor is more affordable, smaller hospitals in counties and villages are losing patients to bigger and more comprehensive ones in cities.

Zhou Jingzhi, Outpatient Director of Beijing Shijitan Hospital, said, "Many patients now would rather make a long trip to go to a bigger hospital because the staff are more experienced there, and there are more medicines available. However, it has also put more pressure on the doctors. Right now a number of measures have come out to help ease the pressure such as online and telephone doctor reservation, and cooperation between community and public hospitals. But overall resource distribution isn't balanced."

Healthcare reform is a tough task for China, and the country will continue to address it, and with more intensity. The central government has promised more funding in the 12th Five-Year Plan period from 2011 to 2015. The focus is on universal medical insurance, a basic medicine system, and public hospital reforms.


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