Rise in cancer patients pressures health insurance

The sharp increase in the number of patients suffering from cancer has put more stress on the country’s social insurance fund which faces a deficit.


Patients in K Hospital in Hanoi

According to the Ministry of Health, there are currently around 150,000 cancer cases in the country, with 75,000 dying every year.

The country has witnessed a sharp rise in cancer patients annually, particularly those suffering from lung, liver, intestine and stomach cancer.

Dr. Tran Van Tuan, Deputy Director of K Hospital in Hanoi, said that most of the cancer patients in Vietnam are diagnosed late, which resulted in more costly treatment and a higher death rate.

According to a recent survey on more than 2,000 cancer patients at Bach Mai and K hospitals in Hanoi and HCM City Oncology Hospital, 67% were forced to borrow money for their treatment and 22% have to sell their family’s assets.

Many patients can’t afford to pay medicine fees and had to live on charitable food while staying at hospital.

The average fee for each medical check-up is around VND6.8 million (USD323.8). Many cases even have to spend up to VND100 million for different tests.

Tong Thi Song Huong, director of the Insurance Department at the ministry, said that the medicinal fees for cancer patients accounted for 10% of the country’s health insurance fund’s total expenditure for medical checks-up annually.

The fund covers 65 kinds of cancer medicines, including those that cost tens of millions of VND per month. The fund every year spends up to VND200 million for two medicines used for leukaemia treatment alone.

In 2014, the health insurance fund spent up to VND3.8 trillion for cancer treatment and the figure increased to VND4.4 trillion in 2015.

With the fund’s increasing deficit and in the context of the sharp rise in cancer patient numbers, the state's pharmaceutical subsidy has been cut for many kinds of medicines.

This has caused huge problems for tens of thousands of hepatitis, cancer and arthritis patients.

Dr. Pham Xuan Dung, Deputy Director of HCM City Oncology Hospital, said that currently, many countries were capable of using 37 medicines for cancer treatment effectively helping to lengthen the longevity for patients without almost side effects, but Vietnam has only 13 medicines of this kind.

HCM City Oncology Hospital is using nine advanced cancer medicines, but due to their high prices, few people can afford them.

Nguyen Minh Thao, Deputy General Director of the Vietnam Social Insurance, said that the Vietnamese Ministry of Health has been embarrassingly forced to ask for charity to help cancer patients.

According to Thao, Vietnam has 56 hospitals and clinics which are eligible to provide cancer diagnosis and treatment.

However, the Ministry of Health should tighten control over diagnosis and treatment to reduce unnecessarily expensive treatments, which she believed would help in cost savings.


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