Global healthcare groups target the elite

Leading international healthcare providers are speeding up efforts to market western-style medical services to China’s elite, on the expectation they will desire a better quality of treatment.

Nasdaq-listed Chindex International, a US healthcare company with a focus on China, recently introduced a new insurance plan with Fesco, the state-run human resources group, aimed mainly at upper-income Chinese.

HCA, the largest hospital chain in the US, is similarly looking to offer a new patient referral service for wealthy Chinese to go abroad for treatment, for instance to the UK for a complicated surgery.

The moves suggest high-income Chinese may be moving away from visiting local hospitals, many of which are state-owned, and inst­ead favouring established global health providers.

As disposable incomes in China’s big cities have risen, there has been considerable demand for services such as healthcare, insurance and education.

Chindex will offer the new insurance scheme in China through its United Family Hospitals and Clinics, which has foreign-trained staff and is mostly frequented by expatriates.

Anne Marie Moncure, UFH president, said the plan was aimed at the country’s “influential and affluent”, allowing them to get high-quality care around the country and abroad. The plan will cost about Rmb25,000 ($3,165) per person annually.

UFH has hospitals in Beijing and Shanghai, and is planning to open a larger one in the capital and another in southern Gua­ngzhou city.

Roberta Lipson, Chindex president, estimated Chinese visitors at UFH now account for about 40 per cent of all patients but many still do not have comprehensive insurance. “This means that although many more Chinese patients can afford our services ... it has been impossible for them to plan in advance for their healthcare spending,” she said.

Wang Xiaoping, chief executive of Fesco Insurance Brokerage, said there were many executives at listed Chinese companies and multinational local hires that frequently travelled abroad who needed better insurance.

Mr Wang said these Chinese wanted the same healthcare that foreigners received and usually did not care about the costs since they could afford it or their employer paid.

There are presently few foreign hospital operators active in the Chinese market and some are opting to provide health services rather than operate hospitals.

HCA International is working on establishing a medical referral business in China, similar to one that is already popular in parts of the Middle East.

The company plans to market its UK hospital services to wealthy Chinese that may want to go abroad for treatment for heart disease, cancer, diabetes or neurological conditions, according to Elizabeth Boultbee, head of HCA’s international business.

Ms Boultbee said wealthy Chinese have two main priorities: their health and the education of their children, which in many cases already takes place abroad.

Cedars-Sinai, another US hospital operator, is also working to establish a referral business for Chinese patients to get treatment in Los Angeles, where it has Mandarin-speaking staff.

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