Health care reform in China discussed

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Vice minister Huang details advances, problems, reforms

Health care in the People’s Republic of China is unequal and too expensive, and there’s not enough of it, but the Chinese government is aware of the problems and is moving to address them, China’s vice minister of health said Sept. 8 at Harvard Medical School.

During an hour-long speech, “Healthcare for Tomorrow’s China,” sponsored by the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Vice Minister Jiefu Huang painted an unflattering picture of health care in the Asian nation, saying that reforms over the past two decades have been ineffectual.

Huang said the combination of market reforms and mass migration to China’s cities as the nation has industrialized has left a system dominated by fee-for-service care, where patients pay for treatment out of their own pockets, with large differences in quality and access among income groups and between rural and urban populations.

“We are in the midst of a social transition with negative impacts on health care,” Huang said. “Health care has to be accessible and affordable. We have some problems with access and with physical and financial barriers.”

The population is voicing increasing dissatisfaction with the current system, Huang said, and that discontent is helping drive the government’s emphasis on reform.

Huang said China has made a lot of progress in its health care over the last 50 years, but recognizes that further changes are necessary.

United Nations figures from 2003 ranked China 61st in health performance among the 192 UN countries, and the World Health Organization said the nation has one of the most unfair systems in the world.