In few other areas does China display a range of conditions as broad as those found in the field of healthcare. Urban areas of China are already suffering from medical problems that many developed countries face today, such as diabetes and high-rates of obesity. At the same time, rural regions face a greater likelihood of disease outbreaks, such as avian influenza (H7N9) or hepatitis. In some cases, the developing world is only a short train ride away from China’s most prosperous and developed cities.
Therefore, in addition to the rural-urban divide in the level of medical care available, China also faces health problems related to an aging society and healthcare costs which have increased three times faster than China’s gross domestic product. All of these issues are addressed in the Healthy China 2030 initiative, an ambitious roadmap for how China plans on navigating these challenges. In part, the government plans on tackling different health problems by expanding healthcare options available to Chinese consumers, a development which the European Chamber fully supports. However, further efforts need to be made as lengthy market-approval processes and a tendency to prioritise short-term cost savings over quality of care run contrary to the goal of expanded consumer choice.
Ultimately, this is bad for both China and Chamber members. Improving the availability of high-quality European medical products would relieve overburdened doctors in lower-tier cities, and the countryside, where medical professionals struggle to treat the large numbers of patients they serve. Complicating the issue are the growing number of older patients that require treatment more frequently, with the type of care provided often different. In response to similar developments in Europe, European businesses have already developed products and equipment that are well suited to this need.
Lastly, higher overall costs driven by economic development along with expanded options now available to a select few, risk alienating lower-income patients by preventing them from enjoying the recent improvements to the healthcare system. Developing a more inclusive system is essential to reaching the stated goals of the Healthy China 2030 initiative. Over a lifetime of use, high-quality European medical equipment is often considerably more cost-effective. While domestic alternatives may involve a smaller initial investment, they often have to be replaced more frequently.
While more still needs to be done, in recent years some improvements to market access have already been witnessed. Partly as a result of the European Chamber’s long-term lobbying efforts, the China Food and Drug Administration has established new industry standards aligned with international ones, potentially shaving several years off the approval process. The long-awaited updated version of the National Reimbursement Drug List (NRDL) was released in February 2017, the first update in eight years. The 2017 NRDL comprises 2,535 items, 15 per cent more than in the 2009 version. Drugs listed in the NRDL can be reimbursed by public medical insurance funds, lowering the purchasing cost and making them largely affordable to the general public. That is good news for China and good news for European businesses.
We also hope to see further progress in the pharmaceutical and medical device fields. However, the China Manufacturing 2025 initiative, announced in 2015, includes domestic and international market-share targets for both industries. Calls from the highest political level to ‘nationalise’ the medical device sector would negatively impact consumer choice and public health if this misguided approach continues to be pursued.
This is why the European Chamber continues to work for better market access as well as the establishment of smart industry standards and regulations. The European Chamber will not stop advocating for the market conditions that can facilitate better healthcare. Chinese citizens deserve the best care that can be provided, which necessitates both an upgrade of the medical system as well as a level playing field for all industry players.
This issue of EURObiz outlines where the healthcare sector is going, as well as how our members can capitalise on new and important opportunities in the medical field.
 Notice on the Issuance of the National Reimbursement Drug List of Medical Insurance, Work-related Injury Insurance and Maternity Insurance (2017 Version), Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS), 23rd February 2017, viewed 20th October 2017, <http://www.gov.cn/xinwen/2017-02/23/content_5170392.htm>