Firm support voiced for drive to weed out healthcare corruption

High hopes are held by experts and officials for China's yearlong drive against corruption in the healthcare sector, which is aimed at uprooting widespread misconduct, reducing medical expenses and fostering a healthy environment for the industry's development.

Prompt action taken at central and local levels to investigate and report a wide range of malpractices has demonstrated the determination to fight corruption, the experts and officials said. The campaign was launched early last month.

However, the experts and officials added that corruption in the healthcare sector is such a complicated and long-standing issue that continuous oversight and institutional reforms are needed to achieve the goals.

Ren Jianming, head of Beihang University's Center for Integrity Research and Education, said: "This round of the anti-corruption drive specifically targets the medical and pharmaceutical sector. The sole focus promises a tough and thorough crackdown."

A statement released by the National Health Commission on Tuesday said the campaign will investigate bribery and kickbacks in pharmaceutical sales, misuse of healthcare insurance funds, the ethics of medical personnel, use of power in exchange for money, and misconduct by industry associations and enterprises.

Ren said that in 2006, one round of a major anti-corruption campaign focused on curtailing irregular pricing mechanisms, such as charging excessive fees for medical services and drugs.

"But that round primarily targeted the business sector, so the impact on healthcare was relatively limited," he said.

"Recent crackdown efforts have pledged a comprehensive investigation to directly confront corrupt acts in the healthcare sector. I look forward very much to the outcome."

Ren added that involvement of the nation's top anti-graft authorities — the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, or CCDI, and the National Supervisory Commission — has further injected momentum into the campaign.

On July 28, the CCDI held a video conference to request intensified supervision and enforcement of disciplines and laws for the anti-corruption drive.

"Although the National Health Commission, as the top health authority, is able to enforce management and disciplinary action, the role of the CCDI in fighting corruption is irreplaceable," Ren said.

Figures compiled by media outlet Shangyou News show the number of hospital heads placed under investigation has risen rapidly since last month, with the total to date reaching more than 180.

"The speed at which local governments carried out probes, and the severity of penalties meted out, are impressive," Ren said.

Hu Xiaodong, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law's School of Political Science and Public Administration, said that over the years, most anti-corruption drives in the healthcare sector have centered on wrongdoing involving kickbacks given by pharmaceutical companies to doctors, and gifts from patients to doctors.

"But the scope of this latest investigation extends to hospital heads, heads of clinic departments, and administrative officials. The form of corruption being investigated is also more varied," he said.

The National Health Commission said the entire industry chain of production, logistics, sales, use and reimbursement will be rectified, and all shareholders, from administrators and associations to medical institutions, enterprises and healthcare insurers, will be examined.

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