If you’re planning on moving to China to live, work or study, you’ll want to know a bit about how the healthcare system in China works. Making sure you have adequate health cover for your personal needs is an essential no matter where in the world you are. Use this China healthcare system overview to figure out what you need to do to stay healthy, and avoid unforeseen bills if you have an illness or accident while you’re there.
As well as an introduction to the medical system in China, this guide covers a brief explanation of the China healthcare system vs United States healthcare provision, so you can understand the differences.
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We’ll also touch on how expats living abroad can save money with Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account. Hold, send and spend money in dozens of currencies, and get the real mid-market exchange rate no matter where in the world you are.
China’s healthcare system has developed enormously in recent years, and many aspects of the way medical care works are still under review in order to make further strides. Chinese citizens can access universal health care through one of a range of government supported or mandated health insurance plans. There are also a wide range of private healthcare options available, and supplementing public health insurance with private cover is possible.
Let’s start with a run through of the key public and private health insurance options available under the healthcare system in China¹:
|Type of coverage||Funding, eligibility and entitlements|
|Urban Employee Basic Medical Insurance (UEBMI)|
|New Cooperative Medical Scheme|
|Urban Resident Basic Medical Insurance|
|Private health insurance|
Most Chinese citizens can choose to take up government supported public health insurance through one of the schemes laid out above. However, aside from the UEMBI program, cover is not mandatory, which means that some people still need to pay out of pocket for all medical expenses.
Government funding for public health and hospital care varies based on the location. There are differences at a regional level, with additional government support in place for low income and rural areas. Insurance premiums for individuals are generally fairly low to allow more citizens to access these schemes if possible. However, even with public insurance, there are some copay requirements at the point of accessing some care. We’ll look at these in more detail a little later.
The Chinese government has created ways for all citizens to access public health insurance. However, there are fees and insurance premiums to pay, and the schemes are not necessarily mandatory for individuals. This means that not everyone is able to take up the opportunity of public healthcare.
Even for Chinese citizens with public health insurance, there may be some fees for care and medication. However, these costs are subsidised heavily, to make care within the reach of as many people as possible.
Copay for care and medication depends on the type of public insurance you have, the healthcare needs you have, the type of hospital you visit and a range of other factors. However, the Commonwealth Fund report the following as typical costs:
|Primary care visit||0.71 USD - 2.38 USD|
|Specialist consultation||6.18 USD - 19.17 USD|
|Hospitalization (per visit)||1,110 USD - 1,380 USD|
|Outpatient medication following primary care visit||2 USD - 4 USD|
|Outpatient medication following specialist visit||9 USD - 16 USD|
|Wondering how much it would cost you in China’s local currency? Check out the handy calculator below|
Not all medication is reimbursed, or there may be limits to the amount patients can claim for some medications. However, discounts on some care exist for retirees. Government support is also available for some people who can not cover copay costs, or who are uninsured. However, this only typically reaches a very small fraction of the population.
As a foreigner in China you’ll almost certainly need to take out private health insurance as you are unlikely to be covered by a government subsidised health insurance scheme. Private health insurance can be used to provide care and also cover deductibles and copay requirements³. The Chinese government is encouraging the development of the private health insurance market to allow both foreigners and higher income Chinese citizens to have a broader range of health care choices.
Private hospitals are available throughout the country, with a bigger choice in the large cities and provincial capitals. There are a reported 21,000+ different private hospitals, excluding community and village private facilities, throughout China.
Healthcare in China is free for Chinese citizens and Chinese permanent residents. If you’re a foreigner with permanent resident status you may be able to access government supported public health insurance. If not, you’ll need private health cover.
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US citizens traveling to China — and Chinese citizens headed to the US — are often surprised by the differences in the way healthcare is set up.
Here are some of the key differences between China’s healthcare system vs United States healthcare:
If you don’t have the right insurance or cover for your health needs in either China or the US, you could find you have high medical bills. It’s also important to note that private health care is more consistently available in Chinese cities compared to rural areas. No matter whether you’re in the US, China, or anywhere else in the world, getting to know your healthcare options is important, to make sure you can access the care you need, when you need it.
|How to get assistance|
|Register for health care|
The healthcare system in China is developing at a rapid pace and has already helped to transform the country in many ways. Further reforms are ongoing, which aim to help all citizens access the care they need, as well as giving additional choices and care options to higher income citizens and residents.
If you’re an expat in China it’s worth understanding the local medical system, even though you’re likely to access care through private insurance and hospitals. Use this guide to help you build a picture of China’s healthcare system, and don’t forget — if you’re paying out of pocket for your medical expenses in China, you’d be better off with a Wise Multi-currency Account. Use Wise to cut the fees for currency exchange in China — or on payments to 70+ other countries around the world.
- Commonwealth Fund - China
- SUP China - Healthcare compare: US vs China
- CBBC - How China’s healthcare system actually works
- USC - Healthcare in the US and China
Sources checked on 10.11.2021
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