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China plans to issue new medical reform plan in January 2009


China's long-awaited medical reform plan, which aims at providing universal medical service to 1.3 billion people, is likely to be issued in January, Friday's 21st Century Business Herald reported.

Five supplementary plans on medical insurance, basic medicine, grassroots medical service, public health service and public hospital reform will be issued at the same time, the newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying.

Growing public criticism of soaring medical fees, a lack of access to affordable medical services, poor doctor-patient relationship and low medical insurance coverage compelled the government to launch the new round of reforms.

On Oct. 14, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) issued a draft plan on its website for public debate. The commission received more than 35,000 suggestions in one month.

A health official told Xinhua that the announcement of the new plan in January is "likely". "A revised version based on the public feedbacks has been submitted to the State Council," said the official, who declined to be named.

According to the newspaper, "the new version didn't have significant difference from the old one."

In the draft, the government promised to set up a "safe, effective, convenient and affordable" medical system that would cover all urban and rural residents by 2020.

It clarifies government's responsibility by saying that it plays a dominant role in providing public health and basic medical service. Central and local governments are required to increase health funding to ease financial burden of individuals.

The draft, written by a team of officials and experts from 16 departments, including the Ministry of Health and the NDRC, has been criticized as being "too general" and "full of empty principles".

The five new supplementary plans are believed to outline specific measures. Among them, the one on the building of a basic medicine system and reforms of state-run hospitals are the most important, the newspaper quoted the source as saying.

The basic medicine system includes a catalogue of necessary drugs that would be produced and distributed under government control and supervision, according to the draft plan.

The draft plan did not outline clear measures for state-run hospital reform. But it said government should increase funding to public hospitals to improve their services.

Insufficient government funding resulted in deficits for public health institutions, thus opening doors for hospitals to generate their own revenue by raising fees and aggressively selling drugs.

"Reform of state-run hospitals is a very complicated and difficult project," Bai Chong'en, a professor with the Tsinghua University, said.

"I think the government should pilot the reform in some places and then work out a reform plan based on China's realities," he said.



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