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Private medical insurance in China: How to beat the public hospital queues

China’s total healthcare sector is expected to surpass USD 1 trillion by 2020, making it one of the fastest growing health markets in the world. The Chinese Government spends just over 5% of its Gross Domestic Product on healthcare, but that figure is projected to increase rapidly as the population continues to increase and age. As a result, a wide-ranging reform agenda has been put into motion in China to help it enhance the quality, coverage, and sustainability of the healthcare system for the future.

One of the issues these reforms are poised at addressing is related to overcrowding and overutilization in China’s public health sector. This week, Pacific Prime China discusses how securing China health insurance can help you skip the waiting times and long queues by guaranteeing access to private care.

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The challenges for China’s health reforms

China is one of many countries facing questions regarding the standard and sustainability of its public health sector. The reforms, those planned or already introduced, are being delivered by the Chinese government in order to address the following challenges:

  • Rising health expenditure;
  • An imbalance in resources in public hospitals; and
  • A significant projected increase in demand for health services

Failing to act on these red flaags would see further stress placed upon government budgets, something China is working to avoid as it looks to maintain its economy.

Rising expenditure

Rising costs of healthcare are a feature of health systems everywhere, however China’s current situation looks to be at a crucial point. Currently, health expenditure in China has grown at a rate of 11.6% per year. The country’s economy, by way of comparison, has grown at a rate of 9.9% per year, making health expenditure as it stands an important issue for the government to address before it gets higher.

Imbalance of public health resources

The China Europe International Business School presentation on industry growth and policy development highlighted a number of key resourcing challenges facing China’s public health sector. Currently, public facilities in the country make up a significant majority of the resources available; 46% of all hospitals are public facilities, however they make up 83% of all available beds, attend to 87% of all hospital visits, and treat 85% of all inpatient cases.

China has already begun making moves to address staffing challenges, increasing the number of medical and pharmacy college graduates from 270,000 between 1978 and 1987, to 4.1 million between 2008 and 2015. That said, the country’s physician population ratio (14.9 per 10,000 population) still sits behind countries like Brazil (18.9), Mexico (21), the US (24.5), and Russia (43.1).

A significant projected increase in health service demand

As with most public health sectors around the world, overutilization and a projected increase in demand for health services remains the largest challenge in China. Solidiance suggests that the rapidly ageing population in China will accelerate the country’s old age dependency ratio (over 65 year olds divided by the working population less total people from 15-64 years old) at 43% by 2045; making China one of the highest in the world.

While the largest Asian country had previously held concerns that it had too many children to support, decades of the One Child Policy have now delivered a problem of how too few young workers might support its older generations. According to the Population Reference Bureau, over 65 year olds in China are expected to make up almost 25% of the population by the year 2050.

Older demographics often come with a host of serious health issues; chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases), hypertension, and obesity. With more non-working members of Chinese society living longer and being more susceptible to illnesses requiring lengthy and expensive treatment, it’s little wonder the government has made addressing this issue a priority.

Challenges to the public health system

The problems facing many looking to China’s public health system are all related to the above challenges:

  • Hospitals issuing unnecessary prescriptions and procedures in order to raise much needed revenue;
  • Long waiting times and delays in seeking treatment;
  • A common inability to seek the same physician for your care; and
  • An overall dissatisfaction with the quality of healthcare

As such, China’s public sector has been riddled with tales of doctors prescribing expensive drugs and treating patients like cash cows, people scalping tickets to patients who are waiting long hours for hospital consultations, and instances of violence against medical professionals which has resulted in armed police guards standing in as security at some health facilities.

For the government, cost control methods are being developed in order to curb health expenditure and relieve hospital budgets, tighter regulations are being introduced to protect patients against unnecessary treatments and pharmaceuticals, as well as modernizing of facilities and services in order to grow the capacity of the sector to handle the coming demands of China’s population.

Private medical insurance, however, is being viewed by many as a faster, more direct way of overcoming these public health sector barriers without waiting for the long term effects of the Chinese government’s reforms to take place.

How can private health insurance help?

Private health insurance can help people seeking medical care in China by granting them access to the private hospital system. Virtually all China health insurance plans use private facilities due to having next to no wait times, internationally trained staff, a high standard of service, and generally superior facilities when compared with their public counterparts.

Why might you need health insurance? Because the costs associated with private facilities can still be extremely expensive. At a private or international hospital, people can pay between RMB 1,200 and 1,500 to visit a GP, with procedures for things like an emergency appendectomy costing as much as RMB 50,000. Hopeful parents should also be aware that maternity costs at a private hospital can run as high as RMB 98,000.

Medical insurance in China can be really helpful for those of you who travel frequently, with international health insurance plans able to provide coverage and private facility access both in China and abroad. For many highly mobile expats, this can save on the cost and administration of purchasing multiple travel insurance plans every time you leave the country.

What are the most important differences between the public and private health sectors in China?

Beyond what we’ve outlined here, there are a number of specific and peculiar differences between the public health sector and the private hospital system. Understanding what sets them apart is recommended before you make a decision on whether to purchase private health insurance in China. To help you with that, Pacific Prime China has produced a Public and Private Healthcare in Shanghai guide that you can download, free of charge!

Inside, you can get a closer look at what makes up the public and private sectors, what VIP clinics are, and how emergencies are treated in China. Insurance options and costs are also discussed, making this guide a very valuable resource for both new and long-term expats. In addition to this Public vs Private guide, Pacific Prime China has also released a range of other guides related to topics like maternity and IVF as well.

To see our full range of insurance resources, visit our Health Guides page, or alternatively contact our expert team for a discussion on how our advisors can help you.

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