China faces a major challenge in providing affordable healthcare services to a huge and rapidly aging population. “How do you solve a problem like China’s public healthcare?” asks a recent ‘Sixth Tone’ article.

China’s health spending per capita has grown substantially since the turn of the millennium, and the state has footed a sizeable share of the bill. Overall funding for public health this year amounts to 1.4 trillion yuan, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, accounting for 7.2 percent of the entire national budget.

China has been reforming its healthcare system for some years, but now “the reform has entered the most critical period,” according to Zhuang Ning, deputy director of the Department of System Reform at the National Health and Family Planning Commission. The aim is to ensure comprehensive and affordable healthcare access nationwide. “There is no peace and prosperity without the health of the whole population,” Zhuang has stressed.

Top-level public hospitals, especially those in big cities or provincial capitals, deal with extraordinary pressure: In 2016, China’s largest hospital received close to 20,000 outpatients in one day, Sixth Tone reports. In a bid to guide patients to more appropriate facilities, the country’s health authority has been working to build regional health care alliances, which connect top-tier, second-tier, and community-level health centres through training and advisory partnerships to ensure quality services at each level. By the end of 2016, a total of 205 Chinese cities had established regional health care alliances — accounting for 60 percent of cities.

Authorities are also overhauling the funding system. Starting in April, the price of prescription medication was standardized in the first few regions. Beijing has become one of the first cities in the country to completely remove the mark-up on drug sales in public hospitals, instead imposing higher medical service fees to subsidize these institutions. If the Beijing pilot program proves successful, the service charge could be extended to the whole country.

Yet while new policies claim to strive for equal access to quality healthcare for all, some of the reforms appear to be a shift toward market solutions — a user-pays model, which could exacerbate inequality. China’s private healthcare sector is clearly growing. There are now more private hospitals than public in the country, though they are typically smaller. By the end of 2015, private institutions provided more than one million hospital beds — 19.4 percent of those available — representing an increase of 161 percent from 2010.

The state is also promoting commercial health insurance to help alleviate the economic burden of caring for its vast, aging population. Since July 1, a national policy gives income tax breaks of up to 1,080 yuan (around US$160) annually to citizens who purchase commercial medical insurance.

Prayer Pointers:

  • Pray into the challenges that Chinese authorities face as they seek to ensure affordable healthcare services are available to everyone.
  • Pray that the various pilot projects might clearly reveal which reforms are most effective, so that they can be more widely implemented.
  • Pray for those in China who are still struggling to access adequate healthcare.
  • Give thanks for Christian believers who serve in the healthcare system. Pray for God’s strengthening and encouragement, and that they might be Spirit-filled witnesses for Him.

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