The Long March to Universal Coverage : Lessons from China

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The march to Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in China is unparalleled. Since the establishment of the State Council Medical Reform team in 2006,4 the basic objective of China's health reforms has been to provide the whole nation with basic medical and health care, while ensuring equal access to, and affordability of, health services. The Chinese government announced the national three-year reform plan in 2009, after which the country has made remarkable progress toward achieving nearly universal health coverage. The recent health reform initiatives under the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) continue to center on five areas. Building on recent experience, more effort is directed toward a structural change of the health system and building an environment that will facilitate policy implementation. This includes optimizing resource distribution, encouraging hospital competition, strengthening regulation and accountability, and enhancing human resources and information technology. While China has successfully extended the breadth of Health Coverage to the Poor (HCP), its scope (the comprehensiveness of services covered) and depth (the degree of financial risk protection) appear to be insufficient. Hospital admissions have increased significantly; suggesting improved access, up to 50 percent of current admissions may be amenable to more cost-effective outpatient care. Thus, it is critical to look into problems beyond the HCP program design, such as institutional arrangements, intergovernmental transfers, and supply constraints. This case study concludes with a discussion of the impacts of HCP and the needed next steps to advance HCP as an intermediate objective to the country's longer-term goals of equitable access and high quality of services.
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Liang, Lilin; Langenbrunner, John C.. 2013. The Long March to Universal Coverage : Lessons from China. UNICO Study Series;No. 9. © World Bank, Washington DC. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
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