Hundreds of uremia-stricken patients and their families gathered outside the Chongqing government building and blocked traffic on Tuesday, in a protest against the rising cost of healthcare, according to reports on Weibo.
According to the report, the demonstration was in response to recent healthcare reforms, which have resulted in the treatment costs for uremia patients doubling. The blockade lasted for several hours, until the protestors were aggressively dispersed by police, with some arrested.
China’s healthcare reforms came as part of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), in which the government pledged to provide universal healthcare by 2020. The World Bank reports that China’s medical insurance scheme currently provides coverage to 95 percent of the population—up from 30 percent in 2003. The government claims to have spent 3 trillion RMB (US$480 billion) on health care since 2009.
However, this incident highlights the flaws that remain in China’s healthcare system, with coverage not extending to certain types of illnesses or people.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that it was rural migrant workers who suffered most, often being unable to tap insurance benefits when they drift in search of work—as they end up in a place far from where they are supposed to live under the Hukou residence registration system. A government survey found that only 18 percent of migrant workers had access to the alternative employment-based insurance system.
Critically, coverage of a high percentage of the population cannot be the only benchmark for the reform’s success as it does not necessarily speak to to either the quality or depth of coverage. For example, while a patient may qualify for support, the fraction of the cost to be reimbursed may be so low that they still cannot cope financially.
Despite the recent reforms leading to an improvement in breadth of insurance coverage, China’s healthcare system clearly still has its issues—particularly when some patients are asked to pay for the scalpel to be used in their surgery.
By Liam Bourke