World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.jpg
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang hold a press conference of the 1+6 Dialogue at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, 22 July 2016.
Photograph: EPA/ROLEX DELA PENA

China needs to deepen reform of its health system to meet the growing needs of a rapidly aging population and to control high costs in public health spending amid an economic slowdown, a study said Friday.

The number of people over age 65 in China is now at 140 million and is expected to increase to 230 million by the year 2030 as life expectancy continues to increase from age 75 in 2009, according to the report.

Without further reform, China's public health spending is projected to reach 15.8 trillion yuan (2.4 trillion dollars) in 2035 compared to 3.5 trillion yuan in 2014.

The findings come from a two-year study across 21 provinces in China from the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Finance, National Health and Family Planning Commission and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of China. 

"Health reforms in China have been enormous ... but China is facing many problems of more prosperous societies including longer life spans and more non-communicable and chronic diseases, [which would] lead to a very expensive system," World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim told reporters Friday.

"China has opportunities to avoid higher costs by undergoing deeper reforms in its health system to deliver quality care at reasonable cost," Kim said.

The World Bank estimates the recommended reforms outlined in the study would take 10 years to implement and help China save 3 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2025.

"This means ... linking [all levels of health services] more effectively so people get the care they need every step of the way," said Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO. "It's also time to work more efficiently across sectors, to protect people from risky behaviors like tobacco smoking and unhealthy diet, and prepare them to age healthily," Chan said.

When asked about recommendations on pollution-related health concerns, Kim told dpa the Chinese government had significantly raised its commitment to address pollution after suffering "crisis" levels of smog in 2013. 

"It's a major issue. China needs a lot of power and there is still a lot of coal being burnt but I think there is a recognition that pollution is a cause of medical problems and also that reducing carbon footprint is a critical task ... China is moving very quickly right now," Kim said. 

The report's eight key recommendations include improving the role and performance of public hospitals, encouraging greater patient self-management of health, improving status and compensation for health professionals and improving the capacity of insurance agencies to act in the interest of patients by linking payments to achieving better health outcomes.

Chin launched its most recent round of health reforms in 2009, and since achieved near-universal health insurance coverage and reduced patients' out-of-pocket expenses.

"The report's recommendations ... will contribute positively to the formation of the 13th Five-Year Plan on health reform. We look forward to carefully studying and applying the report's findings," Liu Yandong, vice premier of the State Council of China, said in a statement.

After decades of growth at a breakneck pace, China's economy grew by only 6.9 per cent in 2015, the slowest growth in more than a quarter of a century.

The government's gross domestic product growth target for 2016 is 6.5 to 7 per cent.  

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