China Looking at Major Health Reforms

The Associated Press reports:

China announced Monday the outlines of a thorough reform of the health care system that pledges to provide improved services to all citizens by 2020, tackling a critical issue that has become a major source of public dissatisfaction.

While many details of the plan remain unclear, the announcement underscored the communist government's need to at least appear to be making progress on the issue. Public health care has been underfunded for years, and the high cost and poor availability of services are among the biggest complaints of the Chinese public.

A serious illness can wipe out a family's life savings and the need to set aside earnings for potential medial costs is considered a major drag on the domestic consumption that the government so badly needs to boost to raise the flagging economy.

Credited with making huge inroads against infectious diseases and providing basic free care to most citizens, China's soviet-style centralized public health system was largely dismantled in the 1980s amid economic reforms and a growing taste for privatization. Seeing a doctor became far more expensive and the gap between rural and urban health care began to grow, undercutting attempts to boost rural incomes.

Health care spending by both the private and public sector in China amounts to just 5 percent of GDP, significantly less than the 17 percent spent in the United States.

According to a text of the roadmap for reform released Monday by the official Xinhua News Agency, the first stage of the plan calls for extending some form of basic health insurance to 90 percent of the population by the end of 2011.

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