Nie, who traveled 250 miles from Inner Mongolia by train, was lucky to be first in her line, boosting her odds of getting an appointment with one of the hospital’s coveted medical experts. But even that was no guarantee. Patients with pull — and plenty of cash — don’t bother with queues. Scalpers who line up as if they were patients or collude with shady registration clerks snatch up many of the slots and sell them to the highest bidder… 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 favor 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.
Concerned that its rickety healthcare system could destabilize social harmony, China’s central government has launched a $124-billion overhaul, chiefly to improve service in rural areas. Failure to address the nation’s health woes could be disastrous not only for China — home to about a quarter of the globe’s population — but also for the rest of world because of the threat of rising communicable diseases such as H1N1 flu.