Bulk purchases opaper braceletsf medical devices to be expanded

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A trial bulk-purchase program that has made expensive medical devices more affordable in two Chinese provinces is set to be expanded.

In May, the central committee for deepening overall reform approved a plan aimed at cutting the prices of expensive medical devices to reduce the financial burden on patients.

Demand for devices such as coronary stents, heart pacemakers, prosthetic joints and ocular implants has grown in recent years, but patients have complained about their prohibitive price tags.

Jiangsu and Anhui provinces took the lead in implementing reform measures, mainly through negotiating lower prices with manufacturers through bulk procurement, under the guidance of the National Healthcare Security Administration.

Anhui has zeroed in on two categories of implants used during spine and eye surgeries, leading to an average price reduction of about 53 percent for spinal implants and more than 20 percent for ocular implants, according to the provincial Healthcare Security Administration.

In Jiangsu, 55 public health institutions have banded together to negotiate with manufacturers of stents and pacemakers. The stent manufacturers have agreed to price cuts averaging about 51 percent, and those producing pacemakers will provide discounts of as much as 38 percent.

Qin Jiancheng, 46, a resident of Nanjing, Jiangsu, recently received four stents-tiny tubes that keep blocked arteries open-during surgery to treat severe vascular deformities, Jiangsu Television reported.

"Each stent would have cost 13,400 yuan ($1,900) before, but it is now sold for 7,100 yuan," he told local media. "That means I have saved more than 20,000 yuan in total. With the vast discount, we have gained plenty of benefits."

Wu Suling, vice-president of Nanjing First Hospital, said the hospital had used about six dozen stents from Oct 1 to 10, with the bulk-purchase program resulting in savings of more than 400,000 yuan.

The scale of the trial program in the two provinces represents just a drop in the ocean for China"s rapidly expanding medical device market. According to the 2019 Blue Book of Medical Device Industry in China, released in July by Eshare, an online service provider in the industry, the domestic market for high-value medical devices was worth nearly 105 billion yuan last year, up more than 20 percent year-on-year.

The benefits brought by the trial program have motivated other regions to follow suit and seek their own breakthroughs in making expensive medical devices more affordable. Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province announced last month that they had formed a coalition to bid for expensive and frequently used medical devices.

The country"s revamp of its healthcare system has previously used bulk-buying to reduce medicine prices. Government-led buying programs targeting drugs that were initiated in 11 trial regions late last year pushed down drug prices by as much as 90 percent.

Li Tao, deputy director of the National Healthcare Security Administration, said during a news conference in August that bulk-buying is one of the most effective ways to slash the prices of expensive medical devices, but the sector demands a tailored procurement plan.

To smooth out the price negotiation process, authorities needed to take into account the value-added services provided by manufacturers during surgeries using expensive medical equipment.

"In addition, there is no well-established evaluation system that can assess the quality and efficacy of this equipment," she said, adding that more research is needed before the procurement program can be implemented nationwide.

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