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August 3, 2009
In China, quality health care at a fraction of the cost

Health care in China comes at a fraction of the cost compared to the U.S., writes Peter Eisner.

Here’s an antidote to the delirium pills that some in the U.S. health care industry want us to swallow during the universal health care debate. The fact is that many countries think that good health care is a right, not a privilege; as a result people don’t have to mortgage their lives when they get sick.

The latest case I’ve come across is a report from a close friend who just back from the central Chinese city of Wuhan — population at least 6 million, 650 miles west of Beijing.

She woke up one day with a painful case of shingles, a nerve disease produced by the chicken pox virus that can lie dormant in the body for years. By the second day, it was clear that she needed to see a doctor. But she had no idea of how the Chinese medical system works, and doesn’t speak Mandarin.

First, she telephoned a doctor in the United States, who confirmed that she did in fact require treatment right away.

Then, with the help of a translator, she went to an outpatient clinic at Wuhan University Hospital. She was examined, diagnosed and treated in less than one hour. She had feared primitive conditions and scant supplies, but encountered an efficient, patient-friendly system. She saw both a dermatologist and an ophthalmologist who worked in a well-organized setting, including computer tracking of each patient. The doctors confirmed the diagnosis of shingles, and they set out a regimen of treatment.

After that, she was straight off to the billing window — the visit with the two doctors totaled 8 Yuan, little more than $1. And then another quick stop at the pharmacy, where she filled four prescriptions. The bill: 136 Yuan, about $17.

She called home to tell a doctor about her treatment; the physician was impressed, and said the medicines prescribed were well chosen, including the latest anti-viral product.

Two weeks later, the medicine was doing the job and she improved every day, still on the road. For those who complain about discussing medical care in a Communist country, the next stop was Japan, where my friend also had quick, efficient and reasonably-priced checkups.

Her husband concludes, “We can learn from our less-developed Asian counterpart and the more modern Japanese system. The care we experienced randomly was quite professional, effective, expedient, endorsed by the U.S. medical personnel we consulted, and inexplicably inexpensive.”

Case closed.

– Peter Eisner

Photo courtesy of Flickr user televiseus under a Creative Commons license.

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Response to “Peter Says 08/06/2009 :: 11:09:28 PM
Peter Says” – The monthly coverage for an individual in China is 10RMB a month. Any freelancer can afford this price, even the dirt poor peasants. Unlike what you may believe, low wage factory employees in China do receive full medical benefits from their employers. If you ever get a chance, visit some of the hospitals in China near manufacturing cities, you’ll find people with very little income being treated under hospitalization for severe injuries. Usually 3 people per room with 24/7 specialized doctors and nurses present.


Let me just add one more thing here. A doctor in the US who reads X-ray films SHOULD NOT make a half million per year. This is outright ridiculous. This is robbery of average American people’s money! There is a lots of things in this country need to be changed. The first would be significantly reduce MD’s salary and hospitals can hire more doctors for less money.


136 Yuan isn’t cheap. Most Chinese citizens having social security only pay a few yuans for medicines. Do remember that the person who got treated in China is a foreigner who has no medical insurance. Imagine a Chinese visitor who come to US and see doctors without medical insurance. He/she will go bankrupt even for the simplest kinds of medical treatment.


This is nice blog. I’m from Indonesia. About two years ago, I was in Guangzhou, China for business. I had a fever over there, and my translator took me to the clinic near my hotel. It was a government clinic. What I love from the clinic is that the doctor recommended generic medicine to me. I hardly got that in my own country. All those doctors in my country try to sell me expensive drugs.


It may seem cheap to wealthy Westerners but it assuredly feels much more expensive to the people who make less than $6000 a year.
Many other treatments will cost a lot more.

In my experience, Japan’s patient care leaves a lot to be desired. Doctors are prone to prescribing drugs with only a most cursory examination and show little interest in listening to patients.


If it takes “Socialized” medicine to get treated cheaply and efficiently, bring it on, by all means!


A problem China has to deal with is the expectations of its citizens to maintained stability . Those left out by insurance scheme are the lowly paid freelancer. A government must find a solution for people who slip through social net. The government should underwrite these citizens.


Hey, Sunny Sally, where did you take English 101. At Harvard they tought us to use spell-check.
And by the way, health care is not a human right. It is survival of the fitest. That means us Harvard Republicans survive and you dont. Bring back Bush!!!


Let the Republician morons spend down there 401K and sell there childeren into slavery to pay for their chemo – then they will be learning in the college of realism that they science and compassion 101 were electives they should have taken.


It talks little “horse sense” to recognize that there are 5 innate human rights: food, clothing, shelter, health care and education.

Vested interests are railing against the Obama plan. Health care is best left to technicians. Morally lacking factions never cure disease!


to Amy Situ, my dear, i assume that you are in US and have an insurance, but try to live here without it. i have patients like that. it is horrifying. to have a serious health condition is a bad idea in any country, at list its cheap in China


So called ‘socialised medicine’ is NOT a problem – having lived for most of my life in a society which had it, the UK, I can vouch for its benefit and its worth too. If employers thought about it a bit more they would recognise that a workforce that is healthy (STRANGE thought) is beneficial to them; similarly, for the people themselves. Do you REALLY think that you are not subsidising health care as it is? Probably even more than if there was a ‘socialised medicine’ – as it is you have to pay the bonuses for those working in health inductries, which affects how much your health insurance costs – always supposing that you can actually afford health insurance of course.

It seems to me that the only people that are worried by such a service are those that benefit financially from the status quo, or those that are ‘rainwashed’ into agreeing with them.


This experience is indeed very random. Try live there a little longer and get sick, and read some statistics about how horrific a medical care system today’s China has. We can make a valuable point without romanticizing something we clearly has no clue.


It’s the GOP, right-wing voters, insurance industry that’s causing problems with a universal plan for all.

Doctors in the U.S. has the highest salary in the world. Insurance companies are concerned only with profits.

With the less/under educated Americans, who appear to not be able to think for themselves, they are dragged in thinking whatever the outcome may be, they will be taken care of.

I’ve been recommending everyone see the movie, “idiocracy,” from the maker of Beavus & Butthead. It’s a hilarious movie about the dumbing down of Americans. Americans were so dumb, they didn’t know how to grow crops, manage waste…Dumbness was rewarded over intelligence. Corporations like Carl’s Jr., Cost-co, Starbucks bought the FDA,etc. It’s scary to see this is becoming a reality.

Peter Eisner is an editorial consultant with Worldfocus and a 30-year veteran of international news. He has been an editor and foreign correspondent at The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press. He co-authored “The Italian Letter,” which details fraudulent intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. He was founder and president of Newscom, an international online news service, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

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