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Cost of medicine falls as health reform starts

(Xinhua)

08:15, July 03, 2012

A woman takes away her medicines after paying for them at Beijing Friendship Hospital on Monday. (Xinhua/Li Wen)

Goal for pilot project is weaning hospitals off excessive prescriptions

All public hospitals in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen and one in Beijing have begun scrapping their drug markups, leading the way in a comprehensive public hospital reform aimed at improving the quality of medical services and lower drug costs.

On Sunday, the hospitals in both cities undertook what is deemed the boldest and hardest part of the medical reforms as a trial of the policy intended to take effect across the Chinese mainland, said Ma Xiaowei, vice-minister of health, while inspecting Beijing Friendship Hospital, which was selected for the trial.

Public hospitals on the mainland began in early 1980s to make money selling medicine to support their daily operations after government funding cutbacks.

As a result, doctors have tended to prescribe excessive or unnecessary medicines, driving up medical costs and straining doctor-patient relationships, according to Ma.

Under the new initiative, the markup is removed and the economic losses incurred will be covered by increasing medical consultation and service fees.

For a long time, doctors' consultation fees at Beijing's public hospitals cost at most 14 yuan ($2). In the trial at Beijing Friendship Hospital, consultations cost 42 to 100 yuan. Patients covered by the capital's public healthcare insurance will be reimbursed 40 yuan for each medical consultation, so the out-of-pocket cost of seeing a top specialist is 20 to 60 yuan. "As we have expected, the number of patients going to the ordinary outpatient sector increased after the trial began," Liu Jian, president of the hospital, said at a news conference on Monday.

The hospital saw 1,849 outpatients by 4 pm on Sunday. Compared with previous Sundays, the workload this Sunday almost doubled, and the increase mainly took place in the ordinary outpatient sector, Liu said, indicating more people chose to see an ordinary doctor instead of a veteran specialist.

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