“It takes years for medicine that has been proven clinically effective and widely used internationally to get China’s import approval and incorporated into our catalog of medical insurance reimbursement, but for us cancer patients, our lives count by the month or the day,” said 44-year-old middle school teacher Cheng Jing, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016.
Cheng, a resident of Zhengzhou, capital city of Central China’s Henan province, is one of millions of Chinese cancer patients who rely on imported medicine to survive.
The market for oncology medicines in China exceeds $19 billion a year, half of the total imported drugs revenue in the country, according to a China Daily report.
Like many other patients who suffer from cancer, Cheng has to buy time with all the money she has.
“In March 2017, I started the targeted drug therapy. Back then, Iressa wasn’t yet covered by my city’s medical insurance program and it cost 7,200 yuan ($1,137) per month. I’m a teacher and my monthly salary is only a little over 5,000 yuan.”
Due to reasons including patent costs, tariffs and value-added taxes (VAT), as well as multiple levels of commission agents, imported medicines are usually exorbitantly priced for China’s working class.
Take Iressa, a targeted drug therapy for lung cancer, as an example.
A 250 milligram tablet costs between 11 to $13 in countries like Canada, the UK and the US, but in China it is sold for three to four times as much.
In a latest move to address the overpricing issue and to ease the financial burden of cancer patients and their families, State Council pledged to adopt a combination of different measures, including a removal of tariffs for imported cancer drugs — effective from May 1 — a slash of VAT and the import procedures, centralized government procurement and incorporation of much-needed cancer drugs into the medical insurance reimbursement catalog.
Cheng and her friends at the Henan Association for Cancer Recovery told CGTN they were thrilled by the news but are more concerned about when the medicine they need will actually be allowed into the Chinese market and how fast they will be covered by the medical insurance. That is a race they cannot afford to lose.