China’s healthcare: Improvement?

14 Apr

China’s healthcare has always been the subject of severe scrutiny since the Mao years. China’s life expectancy was just 67.9 in 1981, compared to the UK having a life expectancy of 74. Even now, average life expectancy is 74.8, compared to the UK’s of 80, but it is clearly shown that China’s healthcare has improved considerably. One of the issues surrounding Chinese healthcare is the difference in quality of rural and urban healthcare. Due to the rural nature of China, access remains difficult for those on the margins of society, and the facility and quality of doctors they receive is of a considerably lower standard than in cities. These out of reach rural areas still rely heavily upon “barefoot doctors” without medical training. However, recent medical reforms aim to change these. The Chinese Government has spent $125 billion over the past 3 years to extend insurance coverage to 95% of the population, whilst improving access. Furthermore, the aim is to increase healthcare spending to $1 trillion annually by 2020, in an attempt to provide universal healthcare to all residents.

Although the gap between rural and urban care is still sizeable, it has been dramatically decreased. However, one of the growing concerns is out of pocket expenses. Insurance coverage may have increased, but most don’t know the limits to their coverage, often leaving them devastated in a catastrophe, plunging the lower incomes back into poverty. The poorest still get the least, which is certainly a reason why remaining optimistic about China’s healthcare future is difficult. Another barrier is the constant movement of doctors from public care to private, for better wages. These doctors, educated in the west, demand higher fees for the use of western medicine, rendering only the well off applicable. There is much cause for concern that rural China is getting left behind in relation to healthcare, but current medical reforms are on the right path to combat these aforementioned issues.




2 Responses to “China’s healthcare: Improvement?”

  1. pw9g10 April 17, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    Considering the period of time the UK has been developed and the relatively short period in which China has been developing it is a little harsh to compare the life expectancies of the two countries. The inequalities and healthcare difficulties experienced in China make it very likely that its life expectancy will fall short of those life expectancies of Western countries. However, mass inequality and a lack of access to appropriate healthcare threaten to undermine the economic success that China has enjoyed. Failing to look after the poorest in society will not push China in line with developed countries however, having said that it is clear that the Chinese government are aware of the issue of healthcare inequality and are attempting to reduce it.

    The amount of money spent by the Chinese government is a huge amount and will at least make some progress towards achieving insurance coverage of 95%. However, China’s population stands at well over one billion people and so the per capita spending on healthcare needs to be evaluated in order to understand how much the Chinese government are really putting forward to combat the issue of healthcare inequalities.

    Overall, it is apparent that the money spent will bring about some benefits to the Chinese healthcare system although the extent of this is unknown. However, with the increase in spending, it could be the case that many of the Western educated doctors remain in the public sector and contribute to building a fairer healthcare system.

  2. st24g10 May 13, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    On the surface it would appear that the reform has helped. Due to the fact that 94% of Chinese population are now under insurance which is a 3 fold increase since 2005. However, it is important not to be overwhelmed by this statistic as large out of pocket costs still remain.

    Secondly, rural inhabitants still have unequal levels of health services. The government are gradually trying narrow the vast disparity between rural and urban, by improving countryside facilities.

    The reform doesn’t look like it has had much of an impact on many of the health clinics which still look run down, making people think that the reform has had an unequal effect on everybody. however, doctors state that since the reform clinics have received more money which has been spent on equipment and more regular checkups and immunisation. Those rural patients, who previously couldn’t afford treatment, now can. Government provide 55% of the treatment cost, therefore, the patients still need to contribute but it’s far less than the originally used to. Meaning patients are much happier and hopefully much healthier.

    Even in cities, new hospital equipment is seen. Government subsidies have quadrupled in 4 years. For example one hospital had 18 Dialysis machines before reform and now there are 38 and more on the way, showing an increase in the level of money put into health care.

    How to finance big public hospitals? The system currently in place gains most of its income from prescribing drugs, therefore the more drugs they prescribe the more money they receive. Hospitals have to earn their keep and they need to pay their doctors any way they can. So much so that 60% of their revenue comes through the sale of pharmaceuticals. So far throughout the reform some effects have not been made too visible, drug profits still remain a big issue, so much so that a billboard is up in the hospital advertising the price of prescription drugs. The Government have slashed the price in over 1,200 commonly used drugs, no more than half the hospitals incomes are allowed to come from drug revenue in attempt to tackle the issue of over prescription.


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