Chongqing Reviews Medical Price Hikes After Kidney Patient Protests

china-chongqing-protestors-medical-fees-apr1-2015-305x250.jpg Uremic patients protest high medical fees in Chongqing, March 31, 2015.
(Photo courtesy of a person at the scene)

Authorities in China's southwestern megacity of Chongqing on Wednesday said they are reconsidering a new policy after hundreds of patients staged angry protests over skyrocketing medical fees.

Several hundred patients suffering from advanced stages of kidney failure say their fees for dialysis and other costs have shot up beyond their ability to pay, since the new rules were piloted on March 25.

On Tuesday, police were sent in after hundreds of disgruntled patients and their relatives surrounded city government offices, cutting them off from the outside for several hours.

Police beat some protesters and detained a "large number" of people, protesters told RFA.

"The police came in and forcibly dispersed the crowd, and they dragged some people away and shoved them into a vehicle," eyewitness Yan Xiangtao said in an interview on Tuesday.

"It was very crowded, but I saw quite a few [detained]," she said.

"The police also beat some people up, and some of the patients lost consciousness," Yan added. "They have been taken to hospital."

Patients unable to work

A protester surnamed Tian who spoke to RFA on Wednesday said the group had blockaded the Chongqing government building.

"The police [beat us up] because they said we were blocking the road, and nobody could get in or out," Tian said.

He added: "Our fees have gone up by a factor of ten."

Tian said patients with uremia are unable to work for a living, and have no income.

Uremia is defined as "urea in the blood," and is a terminal clinical manifestation of kidney failure.

"As soon as they put the fees up, we couldn't afford it, and so we are going to die," Tian said.

"If we can't go on living, at least we want to die in peace," he added.

A 12-year-old kidney patient surnamed Sun said the patients are particularly angry at uneven fees for treatment across China.

"In other places, they only ask for 10 or 20 yuan per patient, but it is so high here in Chongqing," Sun said.

"All of the kidney failure patients organized themselves and gathered together, because we are treated differently in Chongqing than in other places," he said.

Maintenance costs blamed

A relative of a kidney failure patient surnamed Ye said medical costs had now risen to around 3,000 yuan a month per patient.

"[They have to attend clinic] three times a week, so that's a lot of times a month," Ye said. "We don't have enough money to keep doing it, and I have no idea how we're going to manage."

"They are insisting on the money."

An employee who answered the phone at the Chongqing No. 1 People's Hospital blamed rising maintenance costs for the dialysis machines for the rise in costs.

"The inflation is terrible in Chongqing, and we're not the only hospital to do this," the employee said. "All of the hospitals in Chongqing are putting up their fees."

"This has been decided by ... the government, who told us to put up prices, so that's what we have to do."

"We can't go against [their] rules."

Repeated calls to the Chongqing municipal government pricing bureau rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.

'Not carefully considered'

However, a duty officer at the general government offices confirmed the policy change had come from the government.

"This is indeed a new government policy in Chongqing, and the government is paying close attention to the issues raised by the local people," the officer said.

"We are looking into ways of dealing with this ... Whichever department issued this policy, quite frankly, didn't think it through very carefully."

"[It] has clearly brought with it quite a few negative side effects, so our leaders are looking into the issue, but it'll take time," the official said.

He said he hadn't heard about the protest by kidney patients on Tuesday.

"I didn't come to work yesterday, so I don't really know," he said.

Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi, whose Tianwang website follows closely the fortunes of those who complain against the government, said that the poorest people in Chongqing have been hid hardest by the new policy.

"Whenever they bring in a new policy in China, some officials sit there at home and come up with something without listening properly to public opinion," Huang said.

"That's why such policies are socially divisive, and that's why they give rise to mass incidents."

"Governments should listen carefully to people's views before coming up with new policies," he said.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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