October 6, 2015 — Public health practitioners, policy makers, and industry representatives from China and the U.S. gathered September 28–29, 2015, to share experiences and ideas around health system reform. The 5th U.S.–China Summit, hosted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center, included for the first time a forum and innovation competition for young public health leaders. This year’s Summit speakers touched on topics such as linking health information systems across institutions and increasing the number of primary care doctors in both countries.
The Summit grew out of the School’s China Initiative, and has been held alternately at Harvard Chan School and in China since 2011.
The year’s event highlighted China as one of the success stories of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, which expire this year. The country reached 95% health insurance coverage, and has reduced under-five mortality by at least two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters.
Acting Dean David Hunter and other speakers observed that attendees from China and the U.S. were coming together just days after the U.N. adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to foster international cooperation and knowledge sharing to address pressing challenges including achieving universal coverage and improving health.
Sun Zhigang, vice minister of China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, and director of the State Council Office of Health Reform, highlighted the need to improve access to safe and affordable drugs. He also pledged that by 2020 every Chinese family would be registered with a general practitioner — and that efforts would be stepped up to ensure that there are enough primary care physicians to make this goal possible.
Kelly Cronin, director of the U.S. Office of Care Transformation in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, described efforts to move the health care system toward paying providers based on the quality, rather than the quantity, of care they give patients. The Department of Health and Human Services has set a series of goals and a timeline, which includes moving 50% of Medicare payments to these models by the end of 2018.
In remarks on U.S. health care reform under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), John McDonough, professor of the practice of public health said, “Debates about health care reform in all countries are not about data; they are about core values in societies.” He and other speakers said that although the U.S. and China are very different societies, they share the same challenge in bringing good and affordable health care to all of their citizens.
William Hsiao, K.T. Li Research Professor of Economics, observed that health care in China remains in conflict between economic interests and the public good, and called on its government to do more to improve quality and reduce corruption in its public hospitals. Hsiao has played a role in health care reform in China. He piloted a subsidized, community-governed basic health care system in two provinces that has helped shape the national plan.
Ashish Jha, K.T. Li Professor of International Health, said that whether or not the ACA is seen as a success remains a deeply partisan issue. For his own report card, Jha gave it an A on improving access to care, a C on controlling costs, and an incomplete on improving health care quality.
Other Harvard Chan speakers at the Summit included Katherine Baicker, C. Boyden Gray Professor of Health Economics; Barry Bloom, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Professor of Public Health; David Christiani, Elkan Blout Professor of Environmental Genetics; China Initiative Founding Director Yuanli Liu, dean of the Peking Union School of Public Health and senior lecturer on global health at Harvard Chan; and John Quelch, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management.
First prize in the inaugural innovation competition was awarded to the team Cocoon Biotech, which has developed a drug delivery platform using biocompatible silk protein to treat osteoarthritis. The competition encourages students, researchers, physicians, and entrepreneurs ages 45 and under to develop innovative healthcare solutions. Out of 81 proposals, 27 teams were invited to present at earlier events held in Boston and Beijing. Seven finalists were chosen to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges at the Summit.
Photos: Emily Cuccarese