Beijing has yet to work out the details, despite vow to usher in medical reforms Beijing is still debating how to finance universal health-care coverage, even though it pledged to announce a long-awaited blueprint on overhauling China's notorious medical system this year. Ministry of Health spokesman Mao Qunan said yesterday various ministries and departments were still debating what services the central government should finance, and whether Beijing should pay service providers or patients. 'In terms of the directions and ways of [government] investment, we have to continuously explore where the investment should go, such as disease prevention, public health, basic health-care provision, different types of medical insurance systems, the basic medicine provision system and the growing Chinese medicine industry,' he said. 'Whether we should pay the service providers or the service buyers remains a major question for debate,' added the spokesman. A joint ministerial panel is now hammering out a reform blueprint, but how to cut extortionate medical fees and provide affordable medical care has stirred intense debate within and outside the government. At an earlier meeting, Minister of Health Gao Qiang shed light on the direction in which the government wants to steer the controversial reforms by outlining the main targets: providing free and cheap basic health care at the community level; building a variety of medical insurance systems both in cities and the countryside; stepping up government control over the production and procurement of basic medicines; and improving the management of public hospitals to try to make them less cash-hungry. Mr Mao said the central and local governments would share the financial burden for basic health-care services, but the total cost was hard to predict. The government was considering the provision of free or cheap health-care services at community-level clinics in cities and county or township hospitals in the countryside, which would help detect and treat diseases in the early stages, the minister said. But he denied China was copying Britain's National Health Service (NHS). 'It is different from the NHS as that covers all sorts of health services. But we are going to differentiate basic health-care services from other services and the government will only pay for basic services,' Mr Mao said. He said about 90 countries around the world had similar basic health-care systems. Mr Mao also rejected criticism that such reforms were hard to implement, saying the goals were realistic and attainable. He said previous reforms that established medical co-operatives in the countryside were progressing faster than expected and had boosted the authorities' confidence in carrying out further medical reforms.