State media highlight shocking case of exorbitant hospital fees

As is well known, during the last couple of decades, China has moved from a fully-funded socialist health care system to a private one as government funding has nose-dived. Under the circumstances, allegations that hospitals charge for unnecessary treatment and drugs are inevitable.

However, China’s state media, including CCTV, has recently made a huge fuss about the shocking case of a Harbin hospital charging (unfortunately for them, the family of a well-connected and wealthy businessman) a staggering 5.5 million Yuan (approximately US$680,000) for 2 months cancer treatment for an elderly man before he died in hospital:

Weng Wenhui, a 74-year-old retiree, was admitted to the intensive care unit of Harbin Medical University No 2 in June after being diagnosed with cancer and died 67 days later. Family members say that, during his stay in hospital, they were billed for transfusions of blood weighing in total about 115kg, 588 separate tests for blood sugar and even some services which doctors said had been done after the patient’s death.

“After the patient died on the morning of August 6, the intensive care unit continued to do blood testing, up until the 12th, which cost an extra Rmb260,000.” A large percentage of the Rmb5.5m was made up of sales of imported drugs, family members said, which the hospital had urged them to buy.

A scandal if I ever heard one. However, fair play to the government, for good or ill, they vowed a full investigation and the punishment of relevant staff. Amazingly, the Harbin hospital retorted that it actually undercharged the Weng family “out of special care” for the patient. However, a doctor, Wang Xueyuan, admitted (passed the buck?) by saying that hospital directors forced him to use “a lot of unnecessary and excess drugs”.

I suppose that if you’re rich and well-connected you have the opportunity to make a fuss if you’re overchardged. I’ll take good news whenever I can. Not so for the millions of poor people who are similarly shafted by the hospitals and for whom the paltry sum of several thousand Yuan is a massive burden. The greatest misfortune that can befall a Chinese family is that a relative should require lengthy medical treatment.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

This article reminded me of a secretary at my old company (in Beijing). Every winter, as soon as the temperatur dropped to about 10 degrees she’d visit her doctor and come back rubbing her backside and struggling to lift a bulging carrier bag full of medication.

The treatment included an injection of god knows what and a full course of anti-bios “just in case” she caught cold and that turned into something more serious. I think the use of anti-bios in China is a scandal in itself as well.

December 6, 2005 @ 7:53 am | Comment

A recent issue of The Economist has a good article on the current problems with the Chinese health care system.

December 6, 2005 @ 9:02 am | Comment

China’s health care reform has been a big piece of pain in the hearts of all Chinese. It has gone very badly, this I cannot deny.

This “5 Million Yuan” is very exemplifying of the selfish nature of many Chinese hospitals and doctors people are suffering from it.

I believe on this issue, the CCP is in the worng, and they should take more dramatic and scientific steps to re-look at the health care reform and give the people a better deal.

It is encouraging that Hu Jintao is realizing the problem, and state media is very loud about problems in health care reform, just a few months ago, the Chinese Ministry of Health declare openly that the Health Care Reform in China these days has “basically been unsuccessful”.

December 6, 2005 @ 11:36 am | Comment


So what is the CCP going to DO? I would like to see some specific policies rather than more fancy words.

December 6, 2005 @ 1:17 pm | Comment

Here’s a thought: the CCP could divert the portion of their revenues which is now being spent buying imported liquor and maintaining the mistresses of Party officials into the health system. That would certainly go a long way towards providing better medical care for the Chinese people.

December 6, 2005 @ 4:04 pm | Comment

An even more horrifying story about costly medical care in China is the case of the woman who was almost cremated alive when her relatives whisked her from the hospital to the crematorium after they went broke paying for her hospitalization after a stroke. Fortunately for the woman, the cremator noticed tears in her eyes and saw her move before he put her in the oven.

As an American, I’m no stranger to robbers masquerading as hospital billing agents, so I am very sympathetic to the Chinese on this story. This is not a problem of socialist medicine but of capitalist greed.

December 6, 2005 @ 4:52 pm | Comment

I realize that this goes on everywhere in the world but I am distressed at the overall lack of ethics practiced in every industry in China. Do you Chinese doctors have a Hippocratic Oath or something?

December 6, 2005 @ 5:41 pm | Comment

Interesting article on China’s health system and the pressures that are leading to overcharges and the infliction of expensive and unnecessary medications, in The Economist here:

Doesn’t need a subscription.

December 6, 2005 @ 9:50 pm | Comment

Last week my girl friend caught one slight cold. then i sent her to the hospital, i thought that this slight cold wouldn’t cost me much. but i was wrong. when she returned, she told me that the doctor ordered her to have many physical examinations. i don’t think that physical examination is needed for one slight cold, although i am an outsider to the medical treatment.

soaring medicine price won’t help pharmaceutical companies more competitive. you can see that chinese pharmaceutical companies are more less competitive than Indian counterpart.

December 6, 2005 @ 11:38 pm | Comment

In china, the doctor and the nurse was called as “white angels” before.
but now, they are called as “dark heart angels”.

December 6, 2005 @ 11:42 pm | Comment

Some of these so called Doctors/nurses should never be allowed to practice medicine! They should be turned in to butchers instead. Too many of these butchers are allowed to practice medicine all over the world.

December 14, 2005 @ 7:10 am | Comment

[…] happen to be a very expensive and profitable procedure.  For example a man was recently charged 5.5 million Renminbi (approximately US$680,000) for one hospital stay including blood transfusions weighing a total of about 115kg, some of which were administered after […]

April 27, 2010 @ 10:27 pm | Pingback

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