Less than a month after coming to the wealthy Chinese city of Hangzhou, a construction worker named Li Fuxing had to incur hospital expenses equivalent to six-month's wages on account of a beam that came falling down that resulted in smashing his knee.
Dressed in stripped pajamas accompanied with a cast, the aforesaid individual is another guinea-pig pertaining to an experimentation being conducted on availability of affordable healthcare costs for 1.4 billion people across China. It is expected to cost an estimated $124 billion over the three years to 2011 to Chinese exchequer.
With the debate as to how the government can revamp health insurance cover for its citizens continuing in USA, China is seeking to tackle this ticklish issue by simply providing a token cover for its citizens and revamp the system's reliance on peddling drugs for earning revenue.
Drew Thomson, a researcher on China's health system based at the Nixon Center in Washington, USA draws a demarcating difference between the healthcare standards in USA and China. Based on his observations, US healthcare reforms are trying to expand coverage. On the other hand, in China, necessary measures are being taken that its citizens have access to basic healthcare.
In China, much emphasis is laid on the word "basic" that is targeted specially at the Healthcare sector.
Li Fuxing has started accumulating his daily bills from the hospital in Hangzhou, a lakeside city near Shanghai that attracts migrants across China.
When Li recovers from his current ailment, it is required to travel 800 kms (i.e. 500 miles) to his native place to keep a check on the costs incurred as part of the treatment expenses and whether the same could be recovered or not based on a insurance cover that provides patchwork healthcare cover to millions of migrant workers linked to their native place.
An occurrence of illness can ruin an entire Chinese family from well-paid white collar jobs employed with MNC's to migrant construction workers and hard-scrabble farmers, thereby requiring 40% of household income to be saved for a rainy day.
Economists argue that access to safety cover would enable Chinese citizens to spend more of their disposable income. This would take the heat out of a debate wherein China is locked with USA over the issue of nation's trade surplus.
Gordon Liu, professor of Economics at Beijing University's Guanghua School of Management mentions that in absence of health insurance, that individual is denied accessibility to healthcare.
The best hospitals situated in cities across China meet the requirements pertaining to global standards. On the other hand, clinics situated in rural areas lack in basic amenities and on the top of it, medical staff are found lacking in requisite qualifications.
Often it is found that doctors and hospitals prescribe costly medicaments or treatments that are not necessary. This is done with a view to meet the budgetary requirements of that hospital. Reforms are being introduced in healthcare insurance sector and efforts are on to extend the insurance coverage in order to improve the salaries and the tariffs of hospitals.
There is a great misunderstanding related to healthcare that is widely prevalent in China. Even for complaints such as simple cough or cold, a Chinese citizen prefers to avail treatment at the large hospitals only, thereby putting an additional burden on Hospital Management Systems. To improve the basic healthcare facilities in rural areas that would result in easing the congestion at hi-tech hospitals is one goal of the reforms in Healthcare sector to be implemented in near future.
One of the biggest head-ache that China currently faces is to roll out coverage for its citizens based on the original address of each individual.
However, on account of the economic reforms implemented in China three decades ago, millions of Chinese like Li are compelled to leave their hometown for seeking greener pastures elsewhere.
In comparison, urban work-force are covered consisting of basic government insurance and private policies to a reasonable extent but the rural peasants who avail 20 Yuan i.e. US$2.93 per year are compelled to return to their hometowns for benefiting from the healthcare insurance cover. If this option is ruled out, the rural workforce have to pay upfront nursing the hope that part of their expenses incurred towards healthcare would be reimbursed.
Xu Zhiquan, a salesman by profession who bought his girlfriend to a Hangzhou hospital, rues the healthcare coverage provided by the government. Since he travels a lot, the health cover remained unutilized as both had contributed for healthcare cover at Shanghai situated 150 kms i.e. 80 miles away.
In quest to China's race to development, minimal insurance premiums for the non-beneficiaries of healthcare cover are an expensive option.
Gu Xiazheng, aged 70 years, currently surviving on pension plan of 400 Yuan monthly, ever since her employer went bankrupt a decade ago, is against the current system. Insurance agents have put forth a health policy plan of 400 Yuan yearly and thereby could subscribe to its benefits. She has knowingly opted out of healthcare insurance cover and has questioned saying that as she has been leading a healthy life since past 19 years what would she survive on in case if she decides to avail the health cover option.
Ever since Gu fainted one morning, 600 Yuan have been incurred as medical expenses at an outpatient facility near Hangzhou. As she is yet to recoup from her ailments, tears rolled down her eyes saying that her children have lost jobs and was unable to bear the burden. She was in a pall of gloom and wondered from now on what she would do to make two-ends meet.