China may be on the forefront of economic development, but it has a long way to go in providing health care for its hundreds of millions of workers, according to Hocking Cheng, managing director for health management solutions in China for Aetna. Such health care woes may haunt U.S. multinationals that have to contend with employee wellness issues at home and abroad.
While GDP in China has grown at 10% over past 30 years, health care expenditures have grown at 18% in past 20 years. Spending in rural and urban areas varies greatly, and most care is provided through public hospitals, which, Cheng told attendees Monday at the Institute for Health and Productivity Management annual conference, are funded by prescription drug sales and over utilization of technology. Although the Chinese government covers 95% of its people, it contributes just 10% of operating expenses in health care.
“China’s health care result lacks behind. The country has grown so fast, but the investment hasn’t been tied to outcomes,” Cheng noted.
Access to care also is an issue, he added, asserting that the average person in a rural area has only one-fourth the health care resources as a worker in an urban area; even in urban areas, there are 2.5 general practitioners for every 1,000 people. As a result, many workers end up in hospitals to obtain general care, translating to long lines to see doctors and lost worker productivity.
The role for multinational employers, Cheng said, is to develop onsite clinics and promote behavioral change to curb the number of employees seeking general medical care at hospitals. He also said there’s room for employers to expand efforts to gather data on employee health, including biometric screenings and other wellness initiatives that are widely used in stateside wellness programs.
“Given the rapidly changing economy, [employers] have a more active role to play in starting to engage workers and play positive role in managing health,” Cheng said. “At the end of the day, [the U.S.] health care system has its own challenges, but we can still help them.”
There’s also room for the private health insurance sector to grow; though the government covers 95% of all people, coverage is only very basic. There’s much and trying to push for more doctors in rural areas where even if they want their employees to get preventative health, the infrastructure is not there.
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