Li Hui and Adam Jourdan Beijing and Shanghai

China would ease curbs on foreign investment in joint venture hospitals, the government said yesterday, as it deepens a sweeping overhaul of its health-care system aimed at cutting costs and sprucing up overloaded public services.

China is an appealing market for pharmaceutical firms and medical equipment makers, with spending expected to nearly triple to $1 trillion (R10.4 trillion) by 2020 from $357 billion in 2011, according to consulting firm McKinsey.

In a health-care reform plan for this year published on its website, China’s executive State Council said it aimed to relax limits on foreign investment in mainland hospitals.

The plan would include “reducing restrictions on the percentage of foreign ownership in medical joint ventures and collaborations”, it said.

The move would increase the number of locations where investors from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau could set up medical centres, and let overseas investors set up hospitals in areas such as the Shanghai free trade zone.

The statement gave no details on the timing of the move.

Health-care providers such as Singapore-based Raffles Medical Group, Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare and US-listed Chindex International already operate in China. TPG Capital and China’s Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group bought Chindex in a $461m deal last month.

The ambitious overhaul also aims to bolster insurance coverage and crack down on graft, key areas for President Xi Jinping, who is looking to improve access and cut health-care costs for the population of nearly 1.4 billion.

The government would clamp down on fake drugs, kickbacks to doctors and illegal sales tactics. It would also stiffen monitoring of the prices of imported drugs and medical equipment. – Reuters