It is commonly acknowledged in China that seeing a doctor is expensive and is one of the three heaviest burdens shouldered by the common people - the others being children's education and housing. Nobody would argue against this. But an important person said that seeing doctors in China is "the least expensive" in the world.
According to a media report yesterday, Zeng Qiyi, deputy director of the municipal bureau of public health of Guangzhou, Guangdong province, said: "I have traveled all over the world and found China to be the place where seeing a doctor is the easiest and the least expensive."
I wonder if Zeng has any statistics to support this contention. I also doubt if he has really "traveled all over the world". I know that medical services in many countries are more expensive than in China but I do not believe it is so "all over the world", which must include "the poorest countries" as defined by the United Nations standards.
I may sound like I am nitpicking, for Zeng may be only referring to developed countries by saying "all over the world".
That said, Zeng's statement is perhaps true in only one fact. It is only natural that a commodity is more costly where the general living standard of a country is higher than another. But what is the point of stating the obvious?
Zeng was obviously not making a meaningless statement; he pointed his criticism at "people's incorrect values", which he said had led them to believe China's medical fees to be expensive.
He said: "How much do you people spend to have a drink in a teahouse? You do not respect lives and medical technologies, so you feel it to be expensive. You would spend a few thousand yuan to repair a car but would regard it as costly to spend 100 yuan ($13) to repair a man."
What a shocking remark! I even doubt if Zeng really lives in China. Does he not know that people who own private cars are only a small part of the population? Does he not know that even a minor ailment costs a patient a few hundred yuan in cities, and rural residents do not even see a doctor for a minor illness? Can he give an example where for only 100 yuan one can "repair a man?"
And who is in the habit of frequently visiting luxurious teahouses in Guangzhou? Zeng must not have referred to a thatched teahouse in a rural town in Sichuan province, given the logic he adopted in his argument.
According to the media report, Zeng is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), one who is supposed to speak in the public's interests. He is also a government official, also known as a public servant. I wonder whose interests he represents in the CPPCC.
It is true that doctors charge little - several yuan - for consultation. But everybody knows that hospitals make money by prescribing expensive medicines. For instance, 200 ml of diflucan fluconazole, a medicine to treat gynecological inflammation, is priced at only 4 yuan by the drug plant but a patient has to pay 76 yuan to the hospital, according to Chi Baorong, another CPPCC member, who revealed that fact at last year's CPPCC meeting. The profits are shared by merchants, hospitals and doctors.
It is predictable that the issue of expensive medical services will be mentioned at this year's CPPCC and National People's Congress (NPC) conferences. Let us hope substantive solutions will be worked out to overcome the problem.
(China Daily 02/20/2008 page8)