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Hospitals, Insurance, and Healthcare in China

China is a country full of misconceptions that have entered the foreign psyche, many of which still exist even for expats that are already living there.  In our industry one of the most common misconceptions we come across is the idea that, owing to the cost of most other products and services when compared with other countries, China’s medical system must also be inexpensive – a fallacy that has led to extensive financial troubles for those that have found themselves requiring medical treatment in China without suitable medical insurance.

China’s Tiered Hospital System

China’s hospital and medical clinic system is unique in that China essentially has a 3-tier hospital system for most major cities (which can make choosing a hospital a daunting experience).

Base-tier & Government Hospitals

The base-tier hospitals and clinics are generally government run and therefore very inexpensive. At these facilities you can expect to find Chinese speaking only doctors (and Chinese speaking only staff in general), though if you speak Chinese or manage to register successfully by following other patients entering the hospital and using sign language with the registrar you will then be redirected to the GP offices.

There you can find a range of other patients sitting around you as you describe your symptoms to the doctor (once you have finally located the office), and that’s if you can manage to get around the dozen or so other patients in the room trying to push in front of you. These hospitals tend to prescribe outpatient IV fluid treatment for most minor ailments which is normally administered in an environment that perhaps may be less hygienic than what most expats would be accustomed to.

Mid-tier Hospitals and Clinics

Mid-tier hospitals tend to staff foreign trained Chinese or Taiwanese doctors, or doctors that have at least an intermediate grasp of English. The facilities and cleanliness are improved compared to government hospitals, but the costs can still be quite expensive particularly if ongoing tests and treatment are required.  These facilities are sometimes appear inside government or base-tier private hospitals as “VIP” departments so can be hard to find, particularly if there are no signs and the only English speaking staff at that hospital are located inside the VIP department.

Top-tier Hospitals and Clinics

Finally, top-tier hospitals such as Parkway and United Family Hospital (often referred to as “High Cost Providers”) tend to offer a level of cleanliness and service that most expats would be accustomed to. These hospitals and clinics tend to staff expat doctors, and the equipment used is normally up-to-date and in good condition.

Unfortunately, the costs of treatment at these facilities are on par with the most expensive hospitals in the world with short outpatient GP consultations normally starting at around the $200 USD mark, let alone the costs of tests and actual treatment, making it essential to have a reliable medical insurance in place in order receive top-level treatment in China. If surgery is required, then without insurance one would need to have tens of thousands of USD on hand in order to cover costs.

The Insurance Environment

As the hospital system in China is tiered, so too are the different types of medical insurance available which can be separated into two groups – local style plans, and international style plans.

Local-style Private Medical Insurance

Local style insurance is essentially designed to only cover local and government hospitals. The limits on each benefit and treatment tend to be very low so that you have to choose a low cost hospital in order to not exceed your limits drastically and have to pay out of pocket and in some cases common ailments like cancer are not covered at all. These insurances do tend to be very cheap, though one must be aware that even though many of these plans will advertise that they cover all hospitals (including international ones) the caveat is that in practice the benefit limits are not suitable for anything other than base-tier hospitals.

Local plans tend to only cover Mainland or Greater China, and many are not guaranteed renewable, meaning that if you come down with a serious illness or injury, the insurer may refuse to renew your insurance the following year, or may increase the premium for your account only by a drastic amount. 

International-style Private Medical Insurance

International style coverage is generally modelled quite different to local products in that international style plans usually have an overall annual limit with sub-limits on certain benefits only (for example, maternity) rather than all benefits and treatments having a low limit. These plans are generally fully worldwide cover with the option to exclude USA cover in order to save on premium.

Despite the availability of international-grade hospitals, China is still one of the country’s which produces the most emergency evacuation cases which are covered on almost all international style plans. This occurs when an individual is rushed to hospital but the hospital is unable to take care of the patient due to lack of resources and/or expertise. The insurer will then arrange for an assistance company to transport you to the nearest suitable hospital, which would normally be located in Hong Kong for evacuations out of China.

Another major difference between these types of insurance is that International style cover is usually guaranteed renewable, meaning that regardless of how much you claim you will always be offered a renewal each year, and you will only be charged the same rate as all others that are on the same plan and in the same age bracket. “

Ensuring you are well protected

The insurance market in China has expanded to the point where the options can be quite overwhelming and it can be difficult to ascertain which plans are good value for money. Fortunately at CCW our advisors have extensive experience with the Chinese market and can quote a range of options for you to suit your budget, presented in a way that is clear and concise in plain English.

Additional information about our China Health Insurance Quotation process can be found by clicking China Insurance Quotes.

For more information on insurance and medical costs in China, and to find out more about which style of insurance suits you best, please complete the short form at the top of this page. You can also Contact Us to speak to an expert advisor today.

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