Welcome to capitalism! Sorry you got beat up!

From the UK Guardian, a little news item from not-so-red-anymore China:

China unveiled plans yesterday to deploy police in hospital wards and outpatient clinics to protect medical staff from the public, amid growing instances of physical violence meted out by patients furious at charges and dubious treatment.

The government is concerned about increased attacks on doctors, nurses and administrative staff as the healthcare system becomes the focus of resentment about the gap between rich and poor.

According to the China Daily, 5,500 medical workers were injured last year in assaults and protests, causing more than 200m yuan (£13m) damage.

One of the most prominent disputes was sparked in November by reports that an infant in Sichuan province was denied life-saving treatment because his guardians could not afford the £50 fee. According to the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy 2,000 demonstrators tore through the Guangan City No 2 People’s hospital, smashing equipment and forcing doctors to stop work. About 100 police broke up the crowd, injuring 10 people and detaining five.

Staff at Shanxia hospital in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, started wearing hard hats on their rounds after being harrassed and spat on by relatives seeking compensation for a patient’s death.

According to the domestic media, several hospitals have already hired police to patrol wards and maintain order. Health ministry spokesman Mao Qunan told the China Daily that the security services should cooperate with hospitals to “halt the violent trend” and improve service to patients. “Bringing about a harmonious medical service environment is not just down to hospitals,” he said. “The police should be more involved in safeguarding hospital staff and the facility itself.”

China’s healthcare system – once almost free – is now one of the most market-oriented in the world. Since market reforms in 1979 the government’s share of healthcare costs has declined from 54% to 17%. According to the World Health Organisation China ranks 188 out of 191 nations in terms of the equality of financial access to health.

Wow. Is there a more underwhelming testimony to the “virtues” of pay-to-play capitalized medicine than that last statistic?

Well, wait. It gets better.

For hundreds of millions of poor farmers, all but the most rudimentary care by “barefoot doctors” is unaffordable. A peasant saying has it that a pig must be taken to market every time an ambulance siren wails, a year’s work is ruined as soon as you sleep in a hospital bed, and if you are struck with a serious disease, 10 years of savings go up in smoke. In 2004 a report said 75% of rural patients who declined recommended hospital treatment did so because of financial reasons.

With little support from state coffers, medical institutions have to find new ways to generate income. Drug sales account for half of hospital incomes, which has led to widespread accusations of overprescribing. Many ailments are unnecessarily treated with drips – which require hospital stays and monitoring by nurses – rather than pills that could be taken home.

Money also explains why half the babies in Chinese hospitals are now delivered by caesarean section. According to Li Ling, an economics professor at Beijing University’s China Centre for Economic Research, hospitals can charge more for caesareans because they are billed as surgical procedures, whereas the fee for natural births is set at a low rate by the government.

I’m guessing there are a lot of “complications”, too…the sort of thing resulting in still more needless hospitalization.

For anyone who still believes that privatization is the answer to everything, and that economic growth must happen at any cost–look at China, and you’ll see “any cost” in action. Unnecessary hospitalizations, needless medical procedures, overprescribing of expensive drugs–much like in the good ol’ US of A (whose foreign debt China shares ownership of with Saudi Arabia). So much for the idea that a capitalistic system can do things better or cheaper. Any country where a truly socialized medical system exists, such as, oh, say, Cuba or Sweden–is curiously devoid of such a mess. It has a cheaper, more efficient system, better access to care, and a healthier populace. In short: It looks nothing like China.

China’s “socialism” is all lip service; in reality, it’s totalitarian capitalism under a corporate-tame dictatorship. How else to explain the chutzpah of daring to call it a People’s Republic while it becomes more and more apparent that precious little in said republic is actually working for the people?

It’s also apparent that market reform has not done squat for China on any front.

It hasn’t gotten rid of censorship and repression, for starters; the student uprising at Tiananmen Square is still unmentionable nearly twenty years later, and a large portion of the Internet is inaccessible to most Chinese, while free speech is likewise severely restricted–thanks to corporate collusion. Yay, capitalism!

It hasn’t brought democracy to China; free elections aren’t happening, nor will be anytime soon. No matter what the “new” China may call or style itself, it is still a one-party state.

It has, as we’ve seen, done nothing for healthcare; certainly nothing for public safety, either. The waves of corruption the newly capitalized system has unleashed are even being felt on shores half a world away. The recent Menu Foods scandal, in which melamine (a toxic agent used to make plastics) was found contaminating wheat gluten intended for pet foods, points to another side of the “at any cost” economic miracle-that-ain’t; so too does the mushrooming concern among Chinese rural dwellers about environmental contamination. After all, it’s their children who are dying from all the toxic sludge in the rivers, not those of the distant tycoons running the horrible puppet show.

Poor and ill-educated a large number of rural Chinese may be, and their own government and the big corporations may be doing their damnedest to deprive the people of the People’s Republic of the free and complete access to information they deserve, but stupid they most certainly are not. They know from all too personal experience that “any cost” means they are the ones who will pay, while the authors of their misfortune get off scot-free and never have to look at the mess they made. This is why the Chinese erupt in anger so often–and why the Western media, whose job is mainly to tout the bogus benefits of unfettered capitalism, barely says boo about it.

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