Now in her 60s, Chen Shuyun has long suffered from type II diabetes. Yet the sexagenarian no longer needs to worry about her medical bills.
From China's northeastern city of Changchun, Chen usually spent over 140 yuan (around 21.4 U.S. dollars) each month on Metformin, her daily medication to treat the disease. But it now costs her only 8.5 yuan, a 94 percent drop in her monthly expenditure.
"We have no worries about the medicine's quality given it has been approved by the drug authority. The cheap medicine means parents are free from worries and their children have less of a burden," said Chen's daughter.
Chen is among hundreds of millions of Chinese who have benefited from the government bulk-buying programs.
HALVED DRUG PRICES
In 2019, the country introduced a mechanism to curb inflated drug pricing and soaring medical expenditure. It features direct bulk purchases by national healthcare authorities from pharmaceutical companies.
After three batches of bulk drug purchases, a total of 112 varieties of medicine have made it to public medical institutions across the country thus far, pushing down prices by an average of 54 percent, some by as much as 95 percent.
These measures have succeeded in knocking 53.9 billion yuan off the nation's collective medical bill for the year.
The 112 medicines bought in bulk range from treatment for diabetes and high blood pressure to anti-tumor drugs, all with a large clinical demand.
The price cuts have enabled more patients to have access to life-saving medications that were previously unaffordable to low-income residents, said Jia Jidong, director of the liver center at Beijing Friendship Hospital of the Capital Medical University.
Enticavir, a first-line medicine to treat hepatitis-B, is among the lifesavers. With an annual cost of 13,000 to 18,000 yuan per patient, the drug was previously only used by 20 percent of hepatitis-B sufferers.
But now it costs merely 200 yuan annually and is much more widely subscribed, Jia said.
The country's joint procurement mechanism has also brought relief to its growing number of heart disease patients. Under the bulk-buying scheme, the average price of coronary stents plunged to 700 yuan from 13,000 yuan, down 93 percent year on year.
An estimated 1.5 million coronary stents are used in China every year. Based on the latest purchasing volume, the bulk purchase will save China 11.7 billion yuan. The discounted stents are expected to be on the market from January 2021.
ON PEOPLE'S DOORSTEP
Apart from affordable medicine supplies, convenient and universal access to medical service is equally important.
Previously, Chinese village clinics were virtually disconnected from the country's medical insurance system for direct reimbursements, causing great inconvenience to rural patients. Many were forced to travel great distances in search of treatment covered by their insurance in hospitals in urban centers.
This is no longer the case. A large number of village clinics nationwide have been plugged into the medical insurance scheme. Villagers can receive treatment and get medicine on their doorsteps.
"Villagers no longer complain that the fare to get to the hospital is more expensive than the drugs themselves," said Meng Meise, a village doctor in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Securing the public access to affordable treatment on their doorstep is of great significance for developing the tiered diagnosis and treatment model, Meng added.
An aging population, a surge in patients with chronic diseases, as well as the test of the COVID-19 epidemic, have all prompted China to improve its capacity for health administration, said Hu Yinglian, a professor of the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
China's telemedicine market including consultations and drug sales has been growing vigorously as millions of Chinese are seeking treatment and advice on the internet amid the epidemic.
Internet-based medical services could not only change the way people manage their health but also help solve some of the problems confronting the Chinese health care system and promote universal access to medical resources.