A 47-year-old Chinese man of Hefei Province cut his right leg using a saw as he could not afford to get treatment for his leg arterial embolism. With a wood piece to mask his pain, Zheng Yanliang amputated his leg with a metal saw and small knife.
Zheng took this absurd act after a local doctor advised him to get amputed but refused to carry out the surgery as he could not afford the treatment cost. The hospital told him he would only live for 3 months without the amputation. Unfortunately, his disease has resurfaced in the stub of the leg even after his dire act.
This bizarre incident has once again put a spotlight on the high cost of medical care in China.
In a related report, New York Times claimed Zhang Zefang, a 94-year-old woman, sued her daughter-in-law in Fusheng Village, east of Chongqing City for not taking care of her.
The report cited over 1,000 parents have sued their children due to poor financial support over the past 15 years. In late 2005, after a cancer patient in Harbin received a $625,743 bill, the country had stirred up in debate. However, with this incident, nothing much has changed on the ground.
Based on the survey conducted by China's Health Ministry, the China healthcare cost grew at a much faster pace over the same five-year period than the country's per capita income. People were reportedly unable to bear the rising medical care cost.
Yanliang case showed the higher cost of medical treatment have reduced the people who seek it.
The survey also found almost half of the respondents said they would choose not to see a doctor even if they should. About 29.6 percent stressed they would not prefer not to be hospitalized even if they should be.
China is in the midst of a healthcare sector revamp, which aims to provide universal care for its 1.3 billion population. Addressing a reform strategy has been stated by both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. The challenge that China faces will get further compounded as it will soon be starting at a fast aging population.
About 25 percent of China's population will be above 60 years old by 2035 against 10 percent in 2001. Medical bills will keep increasing even as their contributions to the government's revenues fall.
Experts believe that the state's ability to provide universal medical care will depend on its willingness to cut medicine prices.
With the healthcare reform plan, the government's effort is to improve the country's primary healthcare delivery system aiming to provide equitable access to basic public medical facilities and introduce an essential medicine system.
According to the reform plan, public hospitals will remain the providers of medical services. However, increased emphasis at the grassroots level will enable much wider access and delivery. The government seeks to start pilot improvement programs in state-run hospitals soon.
However, experts said the government failed to take timely action to address the pressing issues.
Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and associate professor at Seton Hall University, writing in the New York Times said, "From 2009 to 2011, the government pumped 173 billion renminbi, or about $27 billion into the health care sector. While the reved-up government support has boosted the health coverage rate to more than 94 percent nationwide, it has not translated into real gains in domestic consumption."
"The seemingly universal health coverage in China actually disguises the still extremely low level of benefit that most people receive. Out-of-pocket payment for health services remains higher than 50 percent in most regions of the country," Huang noted.
See Zheng Yanliang who cut his leg to save medical cost