New Normal, New Policies: A Focus on Healthcare in Two Sessions 

Healthcare Author: Mengyao Zhang Editor: Luke Sheehan Jun 03, 2020 03:06 PM (GMT+8)

The week-long Chinese virtual ‘Two Sessions’ meeting closed on May 28. The hovering pandemic has made the healthcare topic a highlight for the 2020 third session of the 13th National People’s Congress. 

The stethoscope was taken out of the brown leather. Image credit: Marcelo Leal/Unsplash

► China's Two Sessions has touched upon healthcare in five major fields: primary care, medical informatization, insurance, 'aging businesses' and women's health.

► Digital transformation in healthcare, broader insurance coverage and more gender equality in reproduction — this article highlights the three.

As part of the 13th ‘Two Sessions’ meeting, the third session received 54 healthcare-related proposals from people’s representatives for one week. These proposals are submitted by people’s representatives from all walks of life, from the principal at a children’s hospital, headmaster at college, village doctors, lawyers, officers to entrepreneurs. 

In the major trend of healthcare reform, many healthcare-related topics were covered and still are heatedly discussed – these can be generally divided into public healthcare, medical informatization, healthcare insurance, aging industry and women’s health.

From the perspective of technology and equality, EqualOcean has selected three topics and looked into the proposals to see how far ahead we can imagine, starting from today’s words on the paper.

Healthcare informatization: Internet, information and data

There are eleven proposals about informatizing the healthcare business, showing a robust shared will to digitize this industry, from very down-to-earth suppliers, industry chain and business elements. The first proposal was put forward by Mr. Lee Xiaojia (李小加), the Hong Kong Stock Exchange CEO. He suggested asking the Shenzhen Reform Commission to take the lead in accelerating the cultivation process of the data market in a joint effort with the National Development and Reform Commission. In the wind of healthcare reform, the medical data market is the ideal starting point from his side.

As the representative of Chinese capital institutions, Mr. Shen Nanpeng (沈南鹏), the global CEO of Sequoia Capital, also submitted a healthcare-related proposal. This globally known VC investor pointed out the immaturity of China’s current medical informatization. This shortcoming has severely depressed an overall performance of medical supply and the ‘Information Island’ phenomenon hinders the accessibility of high-quality medical resources. As part of the solution, this proposal stresses the popularity and application of big data and AI to improve both software and hardware capabilities.

There are several voices from enterprises in the field of consumption goods. Mr. Ding Lei (丁磊), the CEO of NetEase, proposed establishing big data centers for patients on the national level. It is critical to identify and treat the initial signs of severe diseases by leveraging big data computation, cloud, dynamic diagnosis and medical imaging. Similar was the message from the voice from Mr. Yang Yuanqing (杨元庆), the board of Lenovo. His plan depicts a new generation of healthcare Internet platforms and a ‘Digital Family Doctor’ platform as part of an IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) solution constructed on community-divided units.

Last but not least, the representatives of the medical world tend to speak on more practical issues. Mr. Sun Piaoyang (孙飘扬), the board of Jiangsu Hengrui — an oncological pharmaceutical manufacturer – provided his feedback on the ‘Measure for the Administration of Drug Registration.’ He thinks this set of measures should cover an abundant variety of innovative drugs, considering that these ‘new drugs’ need to be thoroughly tested during clinical stages before the market.

“The point of the measure is to utilize patents to protect those companies who devoted considerable time and money on developing new drugs and hinder those potential free-riders,” says the board of this Chinese pharmaceutical flagship.

He believes it necessary to add a clause to protect innovative medicines — three-year data protection for general ones and four years for those new indications.

Healthcare insurance: More diverse coverage

When it comes to the living quality of grassroot organizations, healthcare insurance is one topic coming into the limelight. This session heard many suggestions standing for a variety of age groups, from patients with chronic disease, senior population to pregnant women. A diverse discussion indicates a positive outlook for a more open policy and incubates a promising insurance business. The China Banking Regulatory Commission issued new commercial insurance guidelines in the field of social service and healthcare this January.

In this field, some initiatives focus on the infrastructure and public services of healthcare insurance. Representative Hu Jiqiang (胡季强), the board of Conba Group (康恩贝集团) — a pharmaceutical manufacturer, pushes to accelerate the legalization and implementation of healthcare insurance. Another representative in telehealthcare, Mr. Yang Wenlong (杨文龙), the board of Dingdang Medicine Express (叮当快药) — an O2O (online to offline) medicine distributor, submitted drafts about the Internet-based medicine industry. He advised establishing an integrated healthcare platform providing an all-in-one service, namely a ‘doctors + physical check + medicine + insurance’ management platform. 

Besides, more people’s representatives want to expand healthcare insurance coverage to benefit weaker groups, such as the old, sick, and pregnant. Home visits for patients with severe chronic disease, consecutive care for the senior, Class-B OTC drugs, and postpartum depression are highlighted to be incorporated into the coverage of insurance.

Above all, an inevitable trend is more diversity and more public welfare.

Women’s health: A late focus

Another particular field this year is women’s health. It is good to see this meeting regarding it as critical, but ironically only three proposals emerged. This year, three topics focused on were: HPV vaccines, talent education dedicated to women and children’s health, and single women’s reproductive rights. 

Critical and reasonable to address female rights –  yet this also comes quite late. 

The first HPV proposal was put forward by Mr. Yu Luming (于鲁明), the head of the Beijing Healthcare Security Administration. He suggested incorporating this particular vaccine into the National Immunization Program (NIP) and making it free for girls aged between nine and fourteen. 

Not to exaggerate, the HPV vaccination proposal has been delayed for one generation. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer. China has more identified cases than in any other country, accounting for 20% of all cases worldwide in 2018. The current HPV vaccination rate of females aged 9-45 is less than 0.05%, with less than 5% in girls aged 9-14.

Although more Chinese ladies are more aware of the significance of this matter than ever before, the supply end and reimbursement have been far from satisfactory. The Chinese HPV vaccine market has long been dominated by some foreign pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Merck & Co. Now some domestic vaccine maker Wantai Pharma (万泰生物) are uprising, undertaking the expectation to provide insured vaccines.

Single females’ freedom to give birth with medical support is another heatedly discussed issue. Inspired by the ‘first case of frozen eggs in China’ last December, Ms. Peng Jing (彭静), a lawyer from Chongqing, called on the meeting to address the quality of reproductive rights. The existing Regulation on Assisted Reproduction of the PRC 2003 bans the assisted reproductive techniques for single women. However, this violates the second clause in the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women, which states that women enjoy equal rights with men – consider that men, regardless of whether married or single, are eligible to store semen.

This virtual Two Sessions closed with surprising and promising in-depth healthcare reforms. For some, these proposals show a positive start, while for others, they are more like an ex post facto revamp. But it shows encouraging signs of progress in any case.