January 25th, 2009 | Xinhua Health minister rallies support for long-awaited medical reform
Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu made a whirlwind tour Saturday in public hospitals and community cooperatives, rallying support for the government’s multi-billion yuan health reform plan.
In his first stop in a specialized psychiatric Huilongguan Hospital, Minister Chen encouraged doctors and nurses to offer advice on the health reform plan, which was passed Wednesday by the Chinese cabinet, or the State Council, on spending 850 billion yuan (123 billion U.S. dollars) by 2011.
According to the ambitious and costly plan, the government promised to set up a universal primary medical service web covering the country’s total population of 1.3 billion.
The detailed plan which was tabled to the State Council for review has yet to be released to the public, many of whom harshly criticized one 2006 draft for “being too generalized and full of empty words”.
One of the weakest links in China’s social welfare system, the creaking health care mechanism remained one key source of public discontent, featuring high medical expenses, limited access to quality medical resources, grumble of patients against hospitals and medical workers, and limited coverage of medical insurance.
Many attributed defects of the existing health care system to links between sales of medicines in hospitals and incomes of medical workers, which helped create an interest of doctors by prescribing high-priced drugs or overdoses.
Minister Chen said he was satisfied to know that salaries of Huilongguan Hospital employees were fully covered by the government expenditure, which, Chen claimed, was a key drive to transform the profit-seeking tendency among hospitals to the cause for serving the public.
China began reforming its medical system in 1992 as it tried to abolish a system under which governments covered more than 90 percent of medical expenses to switch to a market-oriented one.
One incentive for bringing the reform a possible success, Chen said, was to let medical workers to be happy with their work while hospitals supplying patient with quality services.
In visiting Shunyi Airport Hospital, which is also a community hospital that offers services to nearly 70,000 villagers living near the Beijing International Airport, Chen said his ministry would further research and scheme what kinds of drugs would be included in the medical insurance reimbursement list.
“We surely want to include drugs for those common ailments and frequently-occurring diseases,” said the doctor-turned minister.
Some netizens called for free medical services for the whole population. A Peking University professor Li Ling, who took part in drafting the 2006 reform plan, however, said a “free for all” solution would be “impossible” in China, not even in developed countries.
“I am glad to see that the government is determined to push forward the reform, which has the public good as its goal,” Prof. Li said.