BEIJING, China: The National Healthcare Security Administration (NHSA) has taken steps to lower the cost of dental implant treatment at public hospitals in China, including placing a price cap on medical service fees per tooth. The administration hopes that lowering the cost of implant treatment will further improve China’s quality of living standards, particularly as its population ages.
The NHSA will cap the medical service fee per dental implant placed at public hospitals at CNY 4,500 (€642), making it significantly lower than the fees of CNY 6,000 to CNY 9,000 that are currently charged. Centralised bulk procurement of dental implant consumables at a provincial level is also planned, which one expert said could result in a 25% reduction in price.
According to the English-language newspaper China Daily, the NHSA holds that excessive treatment fees have long hampered the field of dental implantology. The NHSA drafted regulatory measures aimed at reining in fees for implant treatment and sought feedback from the public in August. China Daily reported that around 90% of the 230 submissions received supported the measures and that the remaining 10% expressed concerns.
Public submissions that were shared with China Daily included statements such as “We don’t want our pension lining the pockets of dental clinics” and “We are looking forward to the campaign because stomatology departments charge very high fees”.
The newspaper highlighted the plight of one 82-year-old patient who had had four dental implants placed at private hospitals in the past two years. The patient said that the implant portfolio that she was offered featured consumables from the US, the UK and Germany and that the cost of the implants ranged from a few thousand yuan to over CNY 30,000 (€4,285). The patient settled for value implants made in South Korea which incurred a total treatment cost of around CNY 5,500 per tooth. The patient commented: “I would certainly pick more expensive ones if I were younger. But as I’m over 80, I think these cheaper ones will suffice.”
Some of the public submissions that expressed concerns or were not in favour of the proposed changes pointed to the risk and complexity of the surgical work performed by implantologists. One submission said that the sector should not be stigmatised and added: “The impression that the service is overpriced primarily stems from a lack of qualified dentists. More effort should be devoted to training before considering a move to cut prices.”
The number of implantologists and clinicians trained to perform dental implant surgery in China is estimated to be less than 10,000.
The manager of a private hospital in Beijing opposed the lowering of service fees and stated: “It is the cost of consulting a professional dentist that makes up the bulk of the price—roughly 40%–50%.” The manager stressed that the skill of the surgeon was very important.
Announcing the price cap in a later article in China Daily, the NHSA said that it would first be enforced at public hospitals and that requests for a higher maximum price would be permitted in those parts of China that have higher labour costs. Regional healthcare authorities would help to expose institutions that insist on “overpriced products” and that do not participate in bulk procurement programmes, the newspaper reported.
According to financial news publisher Yicai Global, standardised pricing would also be introduced for dental crown treatments and bone grafting surgeries. It added that implementing the bulk procurement of dental implants would be challenging owing to the fact that most dental implant clinics are privately run. Citing figures from China Insights Consultancy, Yicai Global said that around 21 dental implants are placed per 10,000 inhabitants in China, compared with 630 in South Korea.