China will improve its mechanism for centralized pharmaceuticals procurement to provide better and more affordable healthcare services, the State Council decided at an executive meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang on November 20.
The pilot reform, which was launched in April, has effectively lowered prices for certain drugs and made medication more affordable. The program is now being rolled out nationwide.
"The good progress in our healthcare reform, especially in cutting excessively high drug prices, deserves full recognition. These are hard-won gains, indicating that we are headed in the right direction," Li said.
It was agreed at the meeting that several steps would be taken to further improve the pilot program. More drug types will be covered in the program, particularly those generic drugs with considerable price gaps from the originator ones, and essential drugs that have passed relevant quality and treatment tests.
A unified and open national procurement market will be developed from existing provincial-level markets. Medical institutions will be encouraged to buy and use drugs on the national essential medicines list or in the national medical insurance catalog.
Improperly prescribing or overprescribing by medical staff will be punishable according to law. A regular drug price oversight mechanism will be put in place.
The meeting also urged steady and orderly efforts to improve price setting for medical services without adding to the burden on patients.
Payment methods for the national medical insurance program will also be reformed. Departments involved in the program are encouraged to directly settle their bills to make payments more efficient.
"Improving price setting for medical services must be done in a prudent and orderly manner, beginning with pilot programs and making sure that in general no more burden is added to patients. Both the interests of patients and medical workers need to be taken care of," Li said.
The meeting also stressed the importance of drug supply and quality. Qualified drugmakers will be required to report their production capacity, stockpiles and emergency stocks.
"Going forward, we need to vigorously promote the practice of tiered diagnosis and treatment. This will allow people to have more direct and easier access to quality medical resources," he added.