News / Asia

GSK Scandal Reveals Shortcomings in China's Health Care System

A Chinese national flag flutters in front of a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) office building in Shanghai, July 12, 2013.
A Chinese national flag flutters in front of a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) office building in Shanghai, July 12, 2013.
VOA News
A series of investigations into hospitals and pharmaceutical companies in China has uncovered extensive use of kickbacks and spurred a debate over how to reform the country’s health care system.
 
The inquiries include the probe targeting Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline drug group and dozens of hospitals in China implicated in a $500 million scheme to bribe officials and doctors to promote sales. 
 
The practices uncovered in the GSK scandal are no surprise to those working in China’s health care system, said Benjamin Shobert, managing director of Rubicon Strategy Group - an organization that advises foreign companies entering the Chinese health care market.
 
“The question was when one of the big players was going to get caught, and what was going to be the fallout from the government deciding to crack down,” Shobert said.
 
An open secret
 
A radiology worker at one Beijing hospital, who wished to remain anonymous, told VOA that so called “commissions” to doctors are a common occurrence.
 
“The hospital often holds meetings saying that doctors cannot prescribe medicine with commissions, once found they will lay you off, and deduct money,” she said, “But privately nobody is so inflexible.”
 
A recent survey by the Chinese Medical Association indicates some 54 percent of doctors in China admit to having accepted sales kickbacks from drugs companies.
 
Media reports have also focused on the impact corruption has on the price of drugs and consumers. GSK executives have been quoted in the media as saying that the cost of financing the bribery scheme led them to mark up drug prices by 20 to 30 percent.
 
Overpriced drugs
 
A related probe in the coastal city of Zhangzhou found that most employees working at all of the city's 72 hospitals had accepted bribes. As a result, by some accounts patients were charged 10 times what the hospital paid for a drug.
 
“This idea that if every drug out there… has this kind of inefficiency built into it, that is an unsustainable inefficiency,” said Shobert. “It needs to go away.”
 
But analysts believe the only way to stop hospital corruption is to fundamentally change the way health care is financed in China. 
 
A problem born from market reforms?
 
Before China’s free market reforms started, in the late 1970s, the health care system was largely public and covered almost the entire population.
 
In its push to liberalize financially onerous sectors of its economy, the government reduced public subsidies to health care in the mid-1980s and allowed hospitals to earn income from services and drugs.
 
Thirty years later, the government owns and operates over 90 percent of China’s hospitals, but only provides a small percentage of their funding.
 
“These abuses evolved as a matter of necessity,” said Shobert. “Doctors and hospitals had to find ways to make up shortfalls in funding and reimbursements as an institution. And as an individual, doctors had other ways to capture compensation.”
 
More state money at stake
 
For years, Chinese patients shouldered much of the rising costs of the health care system, but that is changing, says Wu Xun, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Pubic Policy of the National University of Singapore.
 
“After 2009 the government has very aggressively pumped in more resources into the health system, mostly to finance the health care scheme,” Wu said.
 
This has included expanding basic medical coverage to China's rural population as well as a implementing a broader plan for national health care reform. 
 
Wu said that means it’s no longer only the patients shouldering the cost of graft.  
 
“Much of this corruption costs end up with more costs for the government insurance fund,” Wu added.
 
As the government’s financial stakes in health care grow, analysts believe it will need to make the system more efficient and less corrupt.
 
Analysts say the government case against GlaxoSmithKline and others implicated in bribery schemes is a necessary first step, but should be followed by more extensive reforms in hospitals' management, funding and accounting.
 
Shobert said clearer limits on how companies should operate within the sector will be a welcome development for foreign firms that are desperate to grab a share of the China market.
 
“China is so critical for these pharmaceutical companies in terms of justifying their share price,” he said. “They have to know what the rules are, they have to know how they are going to get enforced and right now, all of those things being thrown in flux, there is a lot of concern about what exactly can we generate from China in terms of profitable and sustainable growth.” 
 
GlaxoSmithKline executives have already apologized to Chinese authorities over the bribery scandal and launched an internal investigation. The firm replaced the head of its China operations this week, and warned the scandal could have some impact on its future performance in the country.
 
 

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid