Beijing has pledged to increase government spending on health care and improve key health indicators to the standard of developed countries by 2020, the Ministry of Health said in a report yesterday.
The report, released at the annual China Health Reform conference in Beijing, said the central government would increase health expenditure from 6.5 per cent to 7 per cent of GDP by 2020, up from the current 4.9 per cent.
Several key health indicators would be improved - average life expectancy was expected to reach 77, up from 74.83 in 2010. The mortality rate of children under five should drop to 13 per 100,000 births, down from 18.40.
"The goal is to establish a government financing mechanism suitable to social and economic development and, by increasing government funding and social insurance coverage, reduce personal spending on heath care," the ministry said in a statement.
Expenditure on health care has hovered between 4 and 5 per cent of GDP over the last decade.
In 2010, total expenditure on the sector was 1.99 billion yuan (HK$2.4 billion), accounting for 4.98 per cent of GDP.
But even with the promised increase in spending, the figure in 2020 would still be lower than the 9.7 per cent world average.
Health care has become one of the three social burdens, along with education and housing.
In 2000 the World Health Organisation ranked China near the bottom of 191 countries in terms of the fairness of financial contributions to its health system.
In 2008, 40 per cent of China's total expenditure on health care came directly from its citizens. In 2009, the government pledged to spend an extra 850 billion yuan on health care over three years to overhaul the system.
By the end of last year, 95 per cent of people had some sort of health insurance, up from less than a third in 2003. Personal spending now accounts for less than 35 per cent of total expenditure on health care.
Health Minister Dr Chen Zhu said the goal of health care reforms was to establish a basic system that entitled everyone to "basic medical service and improved health. The system needs to adhere to the public's interests and constantly improve services to ensure they are affordable, accessible, safe and effective".
Zhu Junsheng, a professor with Capital University of Economics and Business, said increased spending did not guarantee lower medical costs for people or make the provision of health care more satisfactory.
"The increased spending does not necessarily go to the targeted group, especially in rural and less-developed areas, or guarantee the quality of service if the designed mechanism fails," Zhu said.
The "Health China 2020 Report" was released to coincide with the two-day conference in the capital involving the Ministry of Health, the State Food and Drug Administration, and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Senior officials from the State Council and the National People's Congress are scheduled to attend.