The latest 17 cancer drugs included in China's national basic medical insurance program in October are now available in more than half of all major hospitals in China, the top health authority said on Thursday.
The National Health Commission instructed major hospitals across China in late October to buy the drugs as quickly as possible so patients will not have to wait, Song Shuli, spokeswoman of the National Health Commission, said at a news conference.
As of early January, 1,257 tertiary hospitals and 129 cancer hospitals in all 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities on the Chinese mainland had bought at least one type of the drugs, with more than 600,000 boxes of drugs being used by patients, she said.
"Availability of the cheaper drugs has greatly eased the financial burdens of some cancer patients," Song said.
"We will continue to encourage hospitals to buy these drugs to improve cancer patients' access to them."
China has a three-tier system to grade hospitals, with tertiary hospitals－which have the largest number of beds and provide comprehensive medical services－at the top of the list.
The number of tertiary hospitals on the Chinese mainland was 2,460 as of the end of September, according to the commission.
The 17 cancer drugs, many of them imported, treat major cancers such as lung, rectal and kidney cancers, and are in high demand by patients in China.
They were included in the national basic medical insurance program in October after price negotiations organized by the National Healthcare Security Administration, which resulted in prices falling by 57 percent on average.
Patients would spend even less on the drugs after reimbursement from the medical insurance fund.
China has been piloting price negotiations with pharmaceutical companies over the past three years to reduce prices of expensive but effective and highly sought-after drugs that treat serious diseases, mostly cancers.
Many patented drugs, including cancer drugs, were sold at higher prices on the Chinese mainland than in most other countries for various reasons, such as higher circulation costs and lack of research and innovation ability among domestic producers, which caused a public outcry for a reduction of prices.
Li Guohui, director of the Pharmacy Office of the Cancer Hospital of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, said 14 of the 17 drugs are now available at the hospital.
"We have bought nearly 2,500 boxes of drugs, which have been used for around 700 cancer patients," she said.
Many of the cancer drugs were not available at the hospitals before, as they were not included in the basic medical insurance program, she said.
"Now many cancer patients can have access to drugs that they could not find or afford before, and they have more choices of drugs," she said.