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Doctors' Profit-making Schemes Criticized

China Daily, March 16, 2011 Adjust font size:

The profit-making tendencies of healthcare providers who drive up medical costs have come under renewed criticism - this time by a member of China's top political advisory body, who cited the sale of heart stents at highly inflated prices at Chinese hospitals.

"Hospitals buy a made-in-China heart stent for 3,000 yuan (US$456), but sell it to patients for 27,000 yuan. They buy an imported one for 6,000 yuan, but sell it for 38,000 yuan," said Dong Xieliang, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Inflated prices are not limited to complex medical devices and procedures. People also complain that treatments for minor illnesses cost more than necessary, according to earlier reports.

"No matter what illness you have, doctors will ask you to take a CT scan first," an Internet user named "Taizhou 3138" said on Monday on Sina microblog, a popular Chinese site.

The main cause of high healthcare costs is that doctors are given too much leeway to write expensive prescriptions because of lax government supervision, Dong said.

Several other medical experts supported Dong's idea.

Zhao Ping, another CPPCC member and president of the Cancer Institute and Hospital of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, said that doctors were underpaid for their work and skills. Thus some tried to make money by prescribing medicine with a big profit margin, China Youth Daily reported on Sunday.

The profit margin can be anywhere between 20 to 25 percent. If the margin is at 15 percent, the entire amount of money involved would reach 45 billion yuan a year, estimated Chen Zhonghua, a CPPCC member from east China's Zhejiang Province, the report said.

During the recent CPPCC session, Dong suggested both inviting a third-party to monitor hospital conduct and introducing standards on the price, purchase and prescription of medicine to curb doctors' abuse of medical expertise to make unnecessarily expensive prescriptions.

In April, China will start a nationwide inspection of the price of medicine and medical services, according to a notice issued on Sunday by several government departments, including the National Development and Reform Committee, ministries of supervision and health and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The move aims to take stock of the progress made since China started a reform of its medical system in April, 2009. All healthcare providers will face government scrutiny of the prices they have charged for medical services since Jan 1, 2010.

If serious cases of illegal pricing are found, authorities will issue fines of up to five times the money involved.

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