Up to 3.7 percent of families in Vietnam were impoverished by hospital and treatment fees in 2008, a group of researchers reported at the country's first health economics conference that opened Tuesday in Hanoi.
The rate, which amounted to 774,000 families in 2008, has been increasing steadily, from 3.5 percent in 2002 and 3.7 percent in 2006, according to the study carried out by Dr.Hoang Van Minh from the Hanoi Medical University and Nguyen Kim Phuong of the World Health Organization.
It estimated that families' expenditure on health accounted for 52.8 percent of the society's total expenditure on health in 2008, although 44 percent of the population had already bought health insurance then, Duong Huy Lieu, chairman of the Vietnam Health Economics Association (VHEA), told the conference.
Financial burdens prompt about 40 percent of the poor population to refuse treatment when they are sick, said Ly Ngoc Kinh, former chief of the Ministry of Health's Health Examinations and Treatment Administration.
However, Kinh didn't say how many the poor population is.
Meanwhile, leaders of local hospitals complained that they were suffering losses because hospital fees were too low to meet their expenses.
Pham Manh Hung, former deputy minister of health, said that some services are charging fees that were regulated in 1995, and are no longer match subsequent inflation and price hikes.
This made it hard for hospitals to offer standard services to patients, Hung said, adding it also pushed some hospitals to find unethical ways to deal with their financial problems.
For example, inspections by the Health Insurance Department under the Ministry of Health showed that hospitals usually ordered insured patients to conduct all kinds of check-ups, including expensive CT scans, said Nguyen Tran Dung, deputy chief of the department.
It wasn't the first time hospitals have grumbled about too low hospital fees.
However, whenever the health ministry has, in recent years, announced a draft with new hospital fees, it has faced objections from the public and criticism from experts who've said it was unreasonable to increase fees on some services by up to 70 times.
The two-day conference was jointly organized by VHEA and the health ministry.