The State Council has decided to expand the medical insurance scheme's coverage to include outpatient medicines for treating high blood pressure and diabetes in an effort to reduce the burden on patients.
In a statement released after an executive meeting on Sept 11, the Cabinet said patients with hypertension and diabetes will be reimbursed for more than half of the cost of medicines they receive from hospital outpatient departments, as long as the medicines are included in the national basic medical insurance catalog.
The new policy will benefit more than 300 million patients with the diseases who are covered by the basic medical insurance scheme in rural and urban areas, the statement said.
Premier Li Keqiang said at the meeting that the decision will not only help ensure the health of the general public, but also improve the quality of the labor force.
"It is also closely related to the future of the nation, and we must make it a priority," he said.
Premier Li noted that a large number of poor families are troubled by hypertension and diabetes, and the cost of treatment is so high that the living standard of some families has fallen below the poverty line.
He called on the authorities to take concrete measures to lower drug prices and reduce the burden on patients.
The Premier also underscored the importance of disease prevention, saying that early diagnosis and treatment will help reduce the incidence of both diseases and ensure the sustainability of medical insurance funds.
To facilitate lower drug prices, the Cabinet said the pooled procurement of drugs will be moved forward and the number of drugs procured will be expanded. A long-term prescription mechanism will be established to further reduce the burden on patients.
Li Ling, a Peking University professor who has conducted research on the country's medical reforms, said the steps rolled out by the Cabinet will bring about major benefits to patients.
"For patients with both diseases, failure to bring their conditions under control will result in serious complications, which not only bring about skyrocketing medical costs but also severe damage to health," she said.
She said the latest measures will not increase the pressure on the medical insurance scheme as the pooled procurement of drugs will help reduce drug prices.
However, she said, the key to controlling the two diseases lay in promoting healthier lifestyles among the general public.
According to the World Health Organization, close to 10 percent of all adults in China - about 110 million people - have diabetes.
Without urgent action to reduce lifestyle risk factors like unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity, that number is expected to increase to 150 million by 2040 with major health, social and economic consequences.
The WHO noted that almost half of all adults in China - close to 500 million people - have prediabetes. "Not only does this pose a risk factor for developing diabetes, but also for other conditions such as cardiovascular disease," it said.
As for hypertension, the WHO said the number of patients in China had reached 270 million.
Only 13.8 percent had their condition under control and some people with hypertension could not access treatment.
Noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, are China's No. 1 health threat, contributing to 88 percent of the country's 10.3 million deaths each year and nearly 70 percent of its total disease burden, according to the National Health Commission.
Lei Zhenglong, deputy head of the commission's disease control bureau, told a news briefing in July that promoting healthy lifestyles was crucial for preventing diabetes and hypertension.
"Obesity, caused by unhealthy eating habits and a lack of physical activity, is the major risk factor leading to hypertension and diabetes," he said.
Lei said the authorities will prioritize efforts to standardize health management among patients so they can control their diseases and prevent complications.