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Rachel Lu

Will Chinese Hospitals Allow Treatment First and Payment Later? Not So Fast

(Alex E. Proimos/Flickr)

It was the best piece of news that many Chinese people had heard in years — they may soon be able to receive medical treatment in hospitals without having to pony up a hefty deposit first.

This would have marked a major change from the current, much-maligned system that sometimes denies life-saving treatments to those who cannot cobble together enough cash in time. While most urban residents in major cities are now covered by some form of state-sponsored insurance, they still need to seek reimbursements after paying the full amount, which could run to tens of thousands of renminbi for major surgeries.

And everyone had good reason to believe the news. First, it came from one of China’s most authoritative sources, China Central Television (CCTV), the state-owned station that carries the Communist Party’s official messages. The tweet from CCTV’s official account on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, announcing the plan was retweeted more than 9,700 times.

Secondly, the news followed signs that major reforms to the healthcare system are afoot under the new Communist Party leadership, including ambitious expansions of the state-sponsored insurance scheme. Earlier this month, Xinhua News Agency reported that several provinces and municipalities had introduced plans to cover serious illnesses under the state-sponsored insurance scheme.

Weibo user @笨笨的傻乐 commented, “I have high hopes. Is it true?”

It is not, at least not for most people.

One day after the report came out, China’s Ministry of Health announced that while a very limited pilot program is underway, there is no timetable for a national rollout of the treat-now-pay-later scheme. Most Internet users declared themselves unsurprised by the reversal. Indeed, many questioned whether the news was an April Fool’s joke to begin with. User @Coo刘油茶 tweeted, “They got me once again!”

User @辛五爷 commented, “You thought they are for real? It is not realistic and not practical. What would the hospitals do if the patients just refused to pay out of bad faith? These plans are just empty words without a system of personal credit and an improvement of overall trustworthiness of our people.”

But @雪峰金蟾123 remained hopeful. “It’s an improvement. At least it is a proposal.”

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Rachel Lu

Rachel Lu is a co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation. Rachel traces her ancestry to Southern China. She spent much of her childhood memorizing Chinese poetry. After long stints in New York, New Haven and Cambridge, she has returned to China to bear witness to its great transformation. She is currently based in China.
  • http://www.facebook.com/dmguglielmo Dominic Guglielmo

    Although this is undoubtedly good news, I think it will come at the cost of a trend in rising healthcare prices for those who cannot or do not pay for their medical services, such as we have seen in the U.S.