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Equity main aim of healthcare reform
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08:52, March 14, 2008

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The government will continue to redress areas of public concern as it strives to ensure fair and equal access to high-quality healthcare for all, Minister of Health Chen Zhu said yesterday.

Dealing with people's criticisms and concerns is a top priority, he said.

Some of the most common complaints are about high treatment costs, difficulties accessing quality services, the unequal distribution of resources across the country, the unethical behavior of medical staff, and the prescription of unnecessary drugs or procedures, he said.

Chen said the government's commitment to tackling these issues was demonstrated by the ongoing medical reforms. He cited the introduction of new healthcare programs such as the New Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS) and the insurance scheme for out-of-work urban dwellers.

Wang Yutang, a farmer from the west of Beijing, was full of praise for the NCMS.

"Before the scheme was launched in 2003, we farmers had to foot the full bill for medical treatment. But now we get subsidies from the government to help pay for outpatient and inpatient care," he told China Daily yesterday.

At a national meeting on health held earlier this year, Vice-Premier Wu Yi ruled out any possibility of NCMS failure.

"Failure is not an option, given the colossal government investment and huge efforts made," she said.

Gao Qiang, vice-minister of health, vowed: "In two years' time, everyone in China will be covered by some kind of health insurance policy."

Speaking at a CPPCC panel discussion last week, Gao said: "Healthcare should be a people-oriented public service managed mainly by the government, rather than profit-oriented businesses.

"It is the key target of the reform."

The latest round of reforms will focus on providing easy and equal access to basic healthcare services for all people, regardless of where they live or their economic status, Gao said.

To support that, medical training institutions will be asked to shift to a demand-oriented approach, so as to produce more qualified doctors, especially at the grassroots level, he said.

"We will create medical teams of qualified personnel who are committed to serving people in local clinics," he said, adding that such staff would be paid better salaries.

Gao said people should be encouraged to use their local healthcare centers rather than always going to hospitals for treatment.

"The use of medical resources should be optimized," he said.

"For minor ailments, people should go to their local clinics. Main hospitals, which are currently overused, should be reserved for dealing with more serious conditions and complex procedures that are beyond the scope of clinics."

But the problems associated with China's healthcare system cannot be solved overnight, Gao said.

Most of the country's nearly 20,000 public hospitals rely on the fees they charge to sustain daily operations, he said.

The vice-minister of health, doctor-turned-politician Huang Jiefu, urged people to have reasonable expectations of the reform of healthcare services, as China is still a developing country.

China currently uses just 2 percent of the world's total medical resources to take care of the health of 22 percent of its population, he said.

The reform plan is not an instant remedy to every problem, Huang said.

China's 6 million medical workers must also play their part in improving doctor-patient relationships from the ground up, through ethical behavior, he said.

But a return to a completely government-funded welfare system, as existed in the 1950s, is totally impossible, Huang said.

"Healthcare is of the nature of public goods, and the cost must be jointly shouldered by the government and society."

Source: China Daily

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