China unveils guidelines for greater involvement of private health 'industry'
State Council policy aims to open up the system to create a more favourable environment with greater access to private health providers
The private sector will play a significant role in providing a wide range of the mainland's health services under a comprehensive policy rolled out by the central government.
The State Council's policy guidelines on developing private health services issued yesterday aim to nurture the sector to become an eight trillion yuan (HK$10.15 trillion) industry by 2020. The policies, which cover market access, financing and equitable treatment with state-run service providers, will create a more favourable environment for private capital in the sector. Analysts said it marked major changes in health care reforms, a top agenda item for Premier Li Keqiang .
A major regulatory shift in the new guidelines is that private investment would now be eligible to participate in any sector of the industry if they were not explicitly forbidden. Currently, private investors are restricted to a list of permissible areas.
The guidelines also stipulated that non-local investments would enjoy the same level of market access as local private investors, according to a Q&A statement issued by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
The government launched a round of health care reforms in 2009 to expand a public medical insurance scheme and upgrade local hospitals and other medical facilities.
The NDRC said yesterday's guidelines were aimed at addressing other peripheral health services to meet people's needs.
The provision of basic medical care would remain shouldered by the government, it said.
Under the new guidelines, however, the government would for the first time be allowed to provide health services that would be purchased, and would gradually increase the number and categories of such services.
Health service providers funded by private capital would also be eligible to receive government financial aid, according to the new policy.
"Medical services have always been referred to as 'public services' in government documents, but this document for the first time refers to it as an 'industry'. This is a shift of direction," said Zhou Zijun, professor with the School of Public Health of Peking University.
"The importance of private investment is stressed and the past obstacles set by administrative monopoly will be broken."
Zhou said the new guidelines laid the foundations for more drastic changes in health care reform, especially regarding public hospitals.
Non-profit private medical institutions will enjoy the same favourable policies as public ones in taxation, land use and use of basic facilities. For-profit institutions will get a discount.
The government will also encourage insurance companies to diversify commercial health insurance products.