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In the first 25 years since the founding of the PRC, great strides were made in public health. Healthcare and prevention services were distributed as a public good through the commune system, reaching deep into the countryside. With the breakup of the commune system, most state funding stopped at the provincial level. People from all over the country flocked to first-tier cities, where higher-level care was available, causing overcrowding and a less-than-ideal patient experience. However, most people did not envision any alternative, and so a private healthcare sector was slow to emerge. In 1997 an American company, the largest distributor of medical equipment and technology in China at the time, opened the first international-standard private hospital in Beijing. At the time less than 5% of the hospitals in the country were private, and the vast majority, due to their questionable quality of care, were the option of last resort for patients who could not get access to public facilities. It had taken 5 years to get the support and permission from the Chinese government, to build, staff and commission United Family Healthcare’s first hospital. Almost all patients in the early years were expatriate residents in China. Now, 27 years later the company is thriving with 11 hospitals and 25 outpatient facilities in China’s major east coast cities under the United Family brand, with 87% of the patients being local Chinese citizens. The company also has its own insurance platform, a chain of rehab hospitals, and home health services. Although today, over 60% of the hospitals in the country are privately owned, they only provide 25% of inpatient services and 15% of outpatient services. Public facilities are heavily subsidized and private hospitals pay high corporate income tax. At the same time, the growth of the nascent private health insurance market presents a real opportunity.


About the Speaker

Roberta Lipson is a pioneering figure in China's healthcare industry with over 40 years of experience. She founded United Family Healthcare (UFH) and served as CEO, guiding its transformation into China's first and largest foreign-invested healthcare system. Under her leadership, UFH expanded to encompass 11 hospitals, nearly 20 clinics, and an internet hospital, earning recognition as "The Most Trusted Healthcare Brand of China." She also led UFH through a public listing on NASDAQ in 1994, a merger with NYSE: New Frontier Health in 2019, and subsequent privatization in 2021. She also founded the United Foundation for China’s Health, focusing on providing healthcare interventions for underserved populations and spearheading initiatives to eradicate cervical cancer. Ms. Lipson is an influential leader in both Beijing and Washington, holding positions such as Vice Chair of AmCham-China and Chair of the U.S.-China Business Council. Her contributions have earned her prestigious awards and recognition, including the Great Wall Friendship Award and the China Pioneer Award. Lipson holds a BA from Brandeis University and an MBA from Columbia University.


About the Chair

Rama V. Baru  recently retired as a Professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is an Honorary Fellow, at the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi, India and an Honorary Professor at the India Studies Centre, Central China Normal University, Wuhan, China. Her major areas of research interest include the commercialisation of health services, infectious diseases, comparative health systems and health inequalities. Her most recent publications include Commercialisation of Medical Care in China: Changing Landscapes (2020), and a co-edited book titled Global Health Governance and Commercialisation in India: Actors, Institutions and the Dialectics of Global and Local (2018). She is currently also a member of the Ethics Committee at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the Technical Appraisal Committee for Health Technology Assessment, the Department of Health Research, the Ministry of Health, the Government of India and the Scientific Advisory Group, Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi.

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