It’s hard to tell whether China’s current healthcare disasters are a result of the old socialized medicine or a too hasty and abrupt switch towards healthcare privatization.
Either way, the result has been lines, cost inflation, and limited access as government programs shut down and private ones fail to meet expectations.
At the very least this shows that privatization alone doesn’t solve healthcare problems. It needs to be done right as well. A well constructed socialized system beats a badly constructed private model, and vice versa:
Appointments for the best doctors are normally snapped up before sunrise. Lines begin forming in front of the hospital’s six registration counters at least a day in advance. Nie’s father, who was too weak to join the queue, needed to see several specialists. Nie had no choice but to stake out a place night after night so that each morning she could arrange a single appointment.
Around her hundreds of patients and family members filled the hall, a dimly lighted space about the size of a tennis court. Each evening it turns into a campsite. A woman from a coal town seeking an appointment with a liver specialist dozed on a pile of jackets. A janitor sat on a copy of the Beijing News, holding a place for his cousin with kidney problems. Many in line passed the time by playing cards, knitting or dozing. When people needed to use the toilet or run to buy food across the street, neighbours in line held their place.
At a time when the United States is grappling to overhaul its healthcare system to provide more Americans with coverage, China is struggling with the fallout of abandoning its socialist model in favour of Western-style privatized medicine. Government efforts to modernize China’s healthcare system and reduce Beijing’s role have led to deep funding cuts for public hospitals. Rural clinics have been hit especially hard.
The results are familiar to many Americans: Patients with good health insurance or ample savings can get first-class treatment at the best medical facilities, while millions of the uninsured and poor live in dread of a serious illness that could bankrupt their families. Hospitals are focusing ruthlessly on the bottom line to stay afloat. Costs are soaring, in part because of perverse incentives that encourage doctors to prescribe pricey drugs and needless tests.