China’s Healthcare Sector Is One To Pay Attention To
By: Brandon P. Cohen
There are certain functions that a government must follow through on in order for its people to contribute to the success of the nation. This list may include, but is not limited to, safety, economic opportunities, social welfare, environmental protections, public programs, education, healthcare, freedom, legal protection, and a political and judicial infrastructure. To what degree each country prioritizes, funds, and pursues these particular functions is quite disparate; moreover, the vast majority of countries can agree that without the health of their inhabitants, all else would fail. Healthcare is a hotly contested and controversial topic in nearly every election worldwide. Countries around the world have exhibited benefits and drawbacks to specific healthcare markets as seen with the Beveridge Model and NHS in Great Britain, the Bismarck Model with private non-profit health funds in Germany, universal coverage in France funded by mandatory taxes, the Canadian system where citizens never see a healthcare bill, the single-payor system with the portable health record ca in Taiwan, the underfunded public/private option in Russia, and the once totally government-sponsored Chinese healthcare system that has been reformed several times.
It is helpful to rewind the clock and demystify the progressions and regressions through the People’s Republic of China’s history of healthcare since the communist party took power in 1949. Originally mandating that all facets from institutions to employees of the healthcare system be owned and operated by the central government, this system, although no insurance was required and infant mortality rates dropped, simply wasn’t sustainable for a country with aspirations to expand its economy. In the 1980s, China defunded and loosened its rule over most of its healthcare operations, leading to gross abuse of the system that didn’t provide insurance to the population. In addition, massive health disparities were observed between urban and rural populations. The healthcare “professionals” in China at the time weren’t trained nearly enough or held to the same quality standards as American physicians. Because the stability of the nation was threatened by the distrust and discontent and outrage of its citizens towards the healthcare system, something had to change, immediately. In the mid-2000s, China began to implement a small insurance for the costly medical expenses. While this wasn’t a bad idea, it was essentially similar to putting a Band-Aid on an open wound that required more invasive treatment.
The government made a commitment at the beginning of the 2010 decade to provide proper access and affordable healthcare to all of its 1.3 billion citizens by 2020. Most citizens, around 95% to quantify it, now have a government-subsidized insurance with adequate coverage. Issues ranging from the negative perception of physicians to specialty clinics gaming the system to focus more on profits instead of patient care to the perpetual health disparities between rural and urban inhabitants still exist today. Building a trusted and fully equipped primary care infrastructure is a central focus of the Chinese government, but it hinges on its ability to improve the medical workforce’s training and quality of practice. The 34 provinces, special administrative regions, autonomous regions, and municipalities of China will undoubtedly play a significant role in the urbanization and development of this reformed healthcare plan.
In conclusion, China is in a period of “uncharted waters” with its new five-year plan, similar to USA’s IHI Triple Aim approach emphasizing lowered per capita costs, increased access, and a healthier population. In the past few decades, the People’s Republic of China has skyrocketed up from a Third World country to a First World country, and with this comes not only a more developed economy and more funds demanded for healthcare and innovation, but also more responsibilities and higher standards to live up to. Many multinationals are seeing this growth in China’s healthcare sector as a potential but complex opportunity for investment and legitimate improvement in the health of the Chinese people, but are cautiously optimistic based on the track record of China’s healthcare reforms and the demographic and socioeconomic trends.